UAW threatens to strike at Ford plant

The United Auto Workers is threatening another strike this week at Ford Motor Co.'s largest and most profitable plant if local contract issues aren't resolved, the union said in a news release Friday.

Nearly 9,000 UAW members at the Kentucky Truck Plant could go on strike at 12:01 a.m. Friday if local contract issues with UAW Local 862 aren't resolved by then. The plant produces Ford Super Duty pickups, Ford Expedition full-size SUVs and Lincoln Navigator SUVs.

The threat comes a day after Ford CEO Jim Farley suggested that the Dearborn automaker is rethinking its U.S. footprint after the union opted to strike at the Kentucky plant last fall, making it the first truck factory hit during the Detroit-based union's targeted strike amid the 2023 contract talks. At the time, the automaker said the plant generated about $25 billion a year, which is a seventh of Ford's 2023 global revenues. The 41-day "stand-up" UAW strike last year cost the automaker $1.7 billion in profit.

It's been more than five months since the contract deadline for an agreement with Local 862, according to the union. Issues being discussed center around health and safety, including minimum in-plant nurse staffing levels and ergonomic issues and skilled trades staffing. UAW Vice President Chuck Browning requested authorization from UAW President Shawn Fain to set the strike deadline.

"Negotiations continue," Ford spokesperson Jessica Enoch said in a statement, "and we look forward to reaching an agreement with UAW Local 862 at the Kentucky Truck Plant."

Unions are able to strike over local contracts, even with a national contract in place. Such work stoppages aren't unprecedented, but they're not as common as they once were in the early days of the union's activism. Members at UAW Local 1166 representing workers at Stellantis NV's casting plant in Kokomo, Ind., went on strike over their local agreement in 2022.

On Thursday, Farley told financial analysts during the the Wolfe Research Global Auto and Auto Tech Conference that Ford's relationship with UAW, which historically had been productive, has changed since the union's battle with the Dearborn automaker last fall.

The automaker builds all of its full-size pickups in UAW-represented plants in the United States and employs approximately 58,000 autoworkers, more than its crosstown rivals. Still, Fain during talks characterized the automakers as "enemies" and said in response to remarks by Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford Jr. that the union and Ford "being a team to fight other companies are over."

At Thursday's event, Farley said: "Our reliance on the UAW turned out to be we were the first truck plant they shut down. And that was a moment for us. Clearly, our relationship has changed ... does it have business impact? Yes."

As a result, Farley added, the company would "have to think carefully about our [manufacturing] footprint."

Local 862 President Todd Dunn said Farley's comment "doesn't have any bearing" on the union's announcement of a potential strike.

Making a threat of a walkout "has happened before," he said. "It's an oddity, or rarity. I've never seen or experienced a local contract strike. My job as president is to facilitate and execute that plan if necessary. [In the fall,] we saw what we were able to do, and the leverage we had. I don't know what would change [members'] mind" on the solidarity they expressed then.

The warning, said Marick Masters, a management professor at Wayne State University, shows the "bottom-up" and "vigilant" approach that has marked the Fain administration, the first one directly elected by UAW members.

"UAW made clear that this is a whole new era of negotiations," he said. "They were going to be more audacious in their terms and demands than they have in the past. Their overall approach is to be more ambitious in their goals and be more willing to strike than in the past."

UAW members last year ratified record contracts with the Detroit Three automakers, securing a 27% compounded wage increase through April 2028, cost-of-living adjustments, increased pension and retirement contributions and the right to strike over plant closures.

Ford reported a $4.3 billion net income on $176.2 billion in revenue in 2023. A $2 billion effort to cut costs in manufacturing this year is expected to offset increased labor costs and expenses related to product refreshes.

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