Costs spiral as auto leader Ford, UAW spar

Delicate times: Ford at a conference on the future of American manufacturing in Dearborn, Michigan. More than 34,000 union members working at Ford, General Motors and Stellantis are on strike. — AP

DETROIT: Ford executive chairman Bill Ford urges the United Auto Workers (UAW) union to end a 32-day strike and reach a new labour agreement and warns of the growing impact on the automaker and the US economy.

“We can stop this now,” Ford said of the strike that expanded last week to shut down the Kentucky plant. “I call on UAW colleagues. We need to come together to bring an end to this acrimonious round of talks.”

Ford made his appeal in a press conference at the automaker’s historic Rouge assembly plant near the company’s headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.

UAW president Shawn Fain replied with a statement warning Ford that the union could “close the Rouge” with a strike.

“If Ford wants to be the all-American auto company, they can pay all-American wages and benefits,” Fain said.

More than 34,000 union members working at Ford, General Motors and Chrysler parent Stellantis are out on strike, and Ford has furloughed 2,480 other workers, citing the impacts of the strike.

Meanwhile, talks between Stellantis and the UAW remained active on Monday, sources said.

The strikes have cost the Detroit Three automakers, suppliers, dealers and workers a total of US$7.7bil through Oct 12, Anderson Economic Group (AEG) of East Lansing, Michigan, estimated in a new report on Monday.

“We’ve entered the danger zone for many suppliers,” AEG said in a statement.

Ford, the great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford, said Toyota, Honda, Tesla and other automakers “are loving this strike because they know the longer it goes on, the better it is for them”.

In reply, Fain said workers at Tesla and other non-union US auto producers “are not the enemy – they’re the UAW members of the future”.

The UAW’s walkout at Kentucky Truck, Ford’s largest and most profitable assembly operation globally, “harms tens of thousands of American workers”, Ford said.

“If it continues, it will have a major impact on the American economy.”

Last Friday, Fain accused Ford of trying to game the talks with inadequate offers and insisted Ford sharply boost compensation.

Ford chief executive officer Jim Farley should “go get the big cheque book – the one Ford uses when it wants to spend millions on company executives or Wall Street giveaways”, Fain said.

Fain also vowed to strike at additional plants at any time.

Last Thursday, a senior Ford executive said the automaker was “at the limit” of what it could spend on higher wages and benefits for the UAW.

Its latest offer includes a 23% wage hike through early 2028, which is higher than GM or Stellantis have offered.

Ford has said the UAW’s proposals would have meant bankruptcy if implemented in 2019.

Ford has long portrayed himself and his family’s company as the most union-friendly in the industry, a message he repeated on Monday.

The union has called Ford “the enemy,” Ford said.

“It should be Ford and the UAW against Toyota, Honda, Tesla and all the Chinese companies” that want to enter the United States market, he added.

Harley Shaiken, a labour professor at the University of California, Berkeley, said Ford was looking to speak directly to workers.

“He’s doing it to move the talks in a way that he would find more desirable,” Shaiken said, but added: “This is likely not going to work.”

He said UAW could be targeting and pressuring Ford because it has the best offer on the table and the union feels it can get the automaker to a deal that it could then pressure GM and Stellantis to match.

GM and Stellantis did not immediately comment. — Reuters

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