Ford Missouri Workers Reject Concessions, Union Say

By Keith Naughton
Oct. 26 (Bloomberg) — Ford Motor Co. factory workers in Missouri voted 92 percent against labor concessions that would match agreements the United Auto Workers reached with the automaker’s U.S. rivals, a union official said.

Workers casting ballots at the Ford Escape factory in Claycomo near Kansas City voted 1,712 against to 147 in favor of the givebacks, Gary Walkowicz, a union official at UAW Local 600 in Dearborn, Michigan, said today. He received results of yesterday’s vote from two representatives at the plant.

UAW Vice President Bob King visited Claycomo, which employs 3,737 hourly workers, yesterday to promote the accord calling for a six-year ban on strikes over wages and benefits and a pay freeze for new hires, Walkowicz said. Ford, the only major U.S. automaker to avoid bankruptcy, seeks the concessions as U.S. industry sales have fallen every month except August since 2007.

“This is a significant challenge for Ford,” Gary Chaison, who teaches industrial relations at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, said in an interview. “Workers may feel like they have little to lose if they reject it, because even if they accept it, their jobs aren’t certain.”

Ford won support from UAW local leaders Oct. 13 on an agreement to grant concessions similar to those secured by General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC. Ford’s 41,000 U.S. hourly workers began voting Oct. 22 and will continue through Oct. 31.

‘People Are Angry’

Factory workers in Cleveland and Wayne, Michigan, have approved the concessions, while employees at two plants in Michigan as well as the Claycomo workers have rejected it, Walkowicz said.

“People are angry,” said Walkowicz, a member of the bargaining committee at a Ford pickup truck factory in Dearborn, where Ford is based. “There’s a lot of pressure from the international union to accept this, but people aren’t buying it.”

Ford shares fell 2 cents to $7.63 at 10:32 a.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have more than tripled this year.

The automaker is offering workers a $1,000 bonus tied to quality and productivity targets and pledges of new production to help win approval of the deal. The Claycomo plant has been promised work by Ford, according to a UAW summary of the latest tentative agreement.

“We are not going to comment until after the voting is completed,” in all Ford plants, Mark Truby, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail.

UAW spokesman Roger Kerson didn’t have an immediate comment when reached by phone.

UAW President Visit

The concessions are the second round of givebacks sought by the automaker this year. In March, 59 percent of production workers and 58 percent of skilled-trades employees approved concessions that included giving up annual bonuses and cost-of- living increases and some layoff benefits.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger visited with workers from a Ford plant in Louisville, Kentucky, yesterday to promote the contract changes to workers. He called the deal a “win-win” for the union and the automaker, according to a report yesterday in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

“What we’re going to appeal to our members to do is sit down with their family and talk about how this agreement impacts them personally, and then make up their minds,” the paper quoted Gettelfinger as saying yesterday before meeting with some of Ford’s 1,900 factory workers.

The plant now builds the Explorer sport-utility vehicle and is set to begin producing the Escape small SUV and Kuga model for export to Europe in 2011, three people familiar with the plan have said.

The UAW leadership is putting its credibility on the line to sell this accord, Chaison said.

“If the contract is voted down, it will essentially be a vote of no confidence in the Ford leadership at the UAW,” Chaison said. “Even if it gets ratified, there could be a substantial faction against it, which will hurt the union.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Keith Naughton in Southfield, Michigan at Knaughton3@bloomberg.net

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