The UAW announced a tentative labor agreement with Ford Motor Co. late Wednesday, and now the proposed contract faces a membership vote.
UAW President Shawn Fain and UAW Vice President Chuck Browning, who led negotiations with Ford during the union’s strike against the Detroit Three automakers, posted a 10-minute video online at 8:27 p.m. to make the news official.
“The Stand Up Strike is working,” Fain said in the video, referring to the union’s strategy of targeting all three Detroit automakers for strikes simultaneously, which had never been done. By closing down additional plants at Stellantis and GM this week, “Ford knew what was coming for them Wednesday, if we didn’t get a deal. That was checkmate.”
Top UAW officials told local union leaders Wednesday evening by phone, prior to the public announcement, that the union had a potential deal with Ford Motor Co. to end the strike against the automaker.
The tentative agreement includes an 11% wage increase the first year and totals 25% over a 4½-year contract, plus a $5,000 ratification bonus and cost-of-living adjustments, according to two sources familiar with the deal but not authorized to speak publicly.
The gains in the deal are valued at more than four times the gains from the last UAW contract in 2019, and provide more in base wage increases than Ford workers have received in the past 22 years, the UAW said in a news release. The union said the tentative agreement also includes:
- Cumulatively raising the top wage by more than 30% to more than $40 an hour
- Raising the starting wage by 68%, to more than $28 an hour
- Providing a raise of more than 150% to the lowest-paid workers at Ford over the life of the agreement, with some workers receiving an immediate 85% increase immediately upon ratification
- Reinstating major benefits lost during the Great Recession, including cost-of-living allowances and a three-year wage progression
- Killing different pay rates, or tiers, for workers
- Improving retirement benefits for current retirees, those workers with pensions, and those who have 401K plans
- Including the right to strike over plant closures
The news follows an especially good meeting on Wednesday afternoon between negotiators for the United Auto Workers union and Ford, sources told the Free Press.
Any potential deal between the union and the automaker is subject to review by local union leaders from around the country elected by the members, called the UAW National Ford Council, who will travel to Detroit prior to a ratification vote. The UAW said the meeting would happen on Sunday, and they would vote to send the tentative agreement to members. If that goes as planned, the UAW will host a special Facebook Live to go through the deal in detail with membership, Fain said.
Local officials will hold meetings and work to answer questions, Fain said on the video. “After that, it will be up to the members to vote on the deal.”
Browning, a longtime UAW member and negotiator, said, “Our union has united in ways we haven’t seen in years.”
He added, “Thanks to the power of our members on the picket line and the threat of more strikes to come, we have won the most lucrative agreement, per member, since Walter Reuther was president.”
Assembly line worker: ‘Let’s get back to work!’
Ford employs an estimated 57,000 hourly workers represented by the UAW, the largest employer of U.S. union workers in the auto industry.
Ford CEO Jim Farley issued a statement saying he is pleased to have reached a tentative agreement and eager to get 20,000 Ford employees back to work at factories in Michigan and Illinois.
Charmaine Sanderfield, 34, of Canton is a Ford assembly worker at the Michigan Assembly Plant who has walked the picket line in Wayne since the start of the strike. She texted the Free Press, “God is good. Now let’s get back to work!”
The tentative agreement comes after a 41-day strike against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis. Fain said Ford workers will be asked to return to work as soon as possible.
The strike will continue against General Motors and Stellantis, as those companies and the UAW had yet to reach an agreement on a new contract.
In recent weeks, the UAW has had members elsewhere reach a tentative agreement pending ratification with General Dynamics while rejecting a tentative agreement with Mack Trucks.
In 2019, the UAW went on a 40-day strike against GM and announced ratification with a 57% to 43% vote on Oct. 25, 2019. The contract representing some 46,000 workers was decided by 23,389 “yes” votes and 17,501 “no” votes.
GM, Stellantis stay the course
In response to news of a deal, both GM and Stellantis said they remain focused on their negotiations.
GM spokesman David Barnas said, “We are working constructively with the UAW to reach a tentative agreement as soon as possible.”
Stellantis spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said, “We remain committed to working toward a tentative agreement that gets everyone back to work as soon as possible.”
Live reaction from the Ford strike line
A light drizzle fell outside Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant on Wednesday night, and pickets stood with UAW signs wrapped in plastic to keep them dry.
News of the tentative agreement was welcomed, even without all of the details.
James Wright, 38, of Brownstown, said he’s ready to get back to work. Strike pay of $500 a week doesn’t go far enough.
He’s looking forward to a “pay increase for sure.”
With a 25% wage increase over the life of the contract, Wright said he’d “be able to afford milk, groceries and gas.”
Whitney Majzoub, 48, of Wayne, said she has 25 years in and she’s “fine with what she’s heard” in terms of what’s in the agreement.
Majzoub is a team leader on the door line and three members of her family all work at the plant, including her son, who has three years in, and her children’s father. Majzoub said she and her son both think the agreement will pass.
Even though much of the early reporting about the talks focused on a higher wage increase, Majzoub indicated negotiations aren’t an all-or-nothing situation.
“You aim high, you meet in the middle,” she said, noting that she bought a new house last year and wasn’t expecting to be out on strike.
Mark Webster, 50, of Jackson, a team leader in the body shop, called word of a tentative agreement “great news.”
“It should pass,” he said, echoing Majzoub in saying that he hopes workers will be allowed to return to work soon.
Webster highlighted a wage increase and benefits for retirees as some of the key additions he’s looking for from an agreement.
Kevin Stimac, 42, of Linden, said he’s ready to get back to work as well.
“Family and $500 a week doesn’t cut it,” he said, noting that for him, a wage increase is good, but he’s looking for job security in light of the uncertainty over the electric vehicle transition.
Stimac agreed the deal should pass, noting that he doesn’t believe the union would bring something to members that would get “shot down.”
As for the union’s strategy in these talks, Stimac said “it sounds like it’s effective” with the union getting workers “closer to where the union wants us to be.”
GM, Stellantis to face pressure?
Bishop Chris Martin, pastor of the Cathedral of Faith Church on Dupont Road in Flint, counseled parish members on strike at the GM’s Flint Assembly Plant in 2019 and he is counseling them again now as they watch from the sidelines. The local plant builds the highly profitable Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups.
A tentative agreement between the UAW and Ford is very good for GM workers, he said. Taking down Ford’s highly profitable Kentucky Truck Plant earlier this month clearly got Ford’s attention, said Martin, who spoke to union leaders Wednesday night.
“GM may be more acclimated to move if Ford moves. Ford is definitely a catalyst. We’ve always said GM plays off of Ford,” he said. “GM will get off the fence. And Stellantis will have to collapse under the pressure.”
Meanwhile, philanthropists and other Flint community leaders have urged the UAW to spare Flint Assembly as a strike target because it would devastate the entire area financially, Martin said.
Details are key
The UAW’s plan for strategic strike targets definitely has moved negotiations, said labor affairs expert Marick Masters, a professor at the Mike Ilitch School of Business at Wayne State University.
And choosing to expand the strike to include additional GM and Stellantis factories this week clearly had an impact on negotiations, said Marick Masters. “Obviously, the devil is always in the details. But they — the UAW and Ford — have found common ground after this difficult struggle. The UAW must believe they have a good contract and union leaders must believe it can get it ratified. I hope that the other two companies will be able to come to agreement with the union as well.”
Art Wheaton, director of labor studies at Cornell University in Buffalo, New York, told the Free Press that the tentative agreement indicates Ford will set the Detroit Three pattern.
“Ford has been leading these negotiations … most of the way,” he said. “Fingers crossed, the strikes end and get back to work inside instead of picketing outside in November.”
Biden weighs in
President Joe Biden, who visited the UAW picket line, issued a statement in response to the tentative agreement that praised the UAW and Ford for coming together after a hard fought, good faith negotiation.
“This tentative agreement provides a record raise to auto workers who have sacrificed so much to ensure our iconic Big Three companies can still lead the world in quality and innovation. Ultimately, the final word on this contract will be from the UAW members themselves in the days and weeks to come,” he said.
“I’ve always believed the middle class built America and unions built the middle class. That is especially the case for UAW workers who built an iconic American industry. And critical to building an economy from the middle out and bottom up, instead of from the top down, is worker power,” Biden said. “It’s showing how collective bargaining works by providing workers a seat at the table and the opportunity to improve their lives while contributing fully to their employer’s success. This tentative agreement is a testament to the power of employers and employees coming together to work out their differences … in a manner that helps businesses succeed while helping workers secure pay and benefits they can raise a family on and retire with dignity and respect.”
More: Bill Ford on UAW strike: ‘We can stop this now,’ urges focus on nonunion automakers
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misstated the status of the agreement UAW members have reached with General Dynamics. They have reached a tentative agreement.
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