| WAYNE, Mich.
WAYNE, Mich. Oct 17 A bright red Ford Focus
sits illuminated on a platform just outside the automaker's
Wayne, Michigan, assembly plant, a proud symbol of the
company's success in reinventing itself under Alan Mulally.
The plant, which is just a 15-minute drive down Michigan
Avenue from Ford Motor Co headquarters, has become an
emblem of the automaker's turnaround under Mulally, who became
CEO in September 2006.
So when workers at the Wayne plant voted to reject a
proposed four-year contract negotiated by the United Auto
Workers union, it registered as a jarring slap to the CEO's
vision for a unified company he calls "One Ford."
"I think they've finally pushed us to the point that we
have to do something," said Kevin Branham, 49, a metal finisher
at the plant. "This vote, it's a matter of people speaking
The surprisingly fierce debate over proposed, four-year
contracts at Ford and its smaller rival Chrysler Group LLC over
the past week has exposed a rift between lower-paid,
entry-level workers and veterans and anger over CEO pay in a
The argument over wages and benefits for 67,000 unionized
auto workers comes just two years after the Obama
administration intervened to save General Motors and
Chrysler from liquidation. But the gratitude that many Detroit
workers felt just after the bailout has given way to a
frustrated sense that blue-collar workers have not shared
equally in the industry's comeback.
"There is a lot of anger at Ford right now, and also a lot
of anger at the union," said Brandon Gustafson, a 40-year-old
assembly line worker at a Ford plant in Minnesota slated for
closure just before Christmas.
With the national unemployment rate stuck near 9 percent
and the risk of a renewed economic downturn, UAW officials led
by President Bob King have said the proposed contract is the
best they can get.
Last month, General Motors workers ratified their own
four-year deal by a two-to-one margin. The debate over parallel
deals at Ford, the strongest of the Detroit automakers, and
Chrysler -- the weakest -- has turned bitter.
In social media postings, such as Facebook, as well as in
union halls, UAW officials have pressed the case that rejecting
the Ford contract would risk a strike where workers would take
home only $200 a week.
By contrast, the proposed Ford contract would give workers
$16,000 in bonuses over four years, including $6,000 at
But many veteran Ford production workers are unhappy with
the lack of a base wage increase from their near $28 in hourly
pay. That wage has not been lifted in eight years. Mulally's
compensation, including a package worth $26.5 million for 2010,
has also been a flashpoint, workers say.
NEARING THE END GAME
"We know Ford is profitable," said Scott Houldieson,
secretary-treasurer of UAW Local 551, which represents Ford's
Chicago assembly plant that makes the Explorer SUV and the
Taurus sedan. "We know they are paying their executives
handsomely. We know that a decent wage for us would not hurt
Ford's bottom line."
Another sore point: many Ford workers had hoped the
contract would resolve an outstanding grievances over pay to
salaried workers that was not given to hourly workers. As it
stands, that issue is with an arbitrator who is not expected to
decide until mid-November.
Wall Street analysts have said the contract at GM and the
proposed deal with Ford would cap costs and link blue-collar
worker pay more directly with performance. But there is a risk
for investors that the kinds of deals negotiated in recent
months will not hold up in 2015 when workers at GM and Chrysler
will have won back the right to strike.
UAW leaders expect the four-year contract at Ford to win
ratification and by Sunday the "yes" vote had hit 57 percent of
votes cast after union officials stepped up their lobbying
Ratification seemed assured after UAW Local 600, the
largest Ford union that includes workers at the historic Rouge
complex in Dearborn, voted 62 percent in favor of the
The final tally is expected by Wednesday.
"As the vote enters the end game, many Ford workers are
asking: 'What's the alternative?' A majority appear to be
saying this is a good contract in bad times," said Harley
Shaiken, a labor expert at the University of California,
Berkeley who is close to the UAW.
Even so, the vote has exposed an undercurrent of
frustration at both Ford and Chrysler after four years of
concessions intended to keep both companies operating.
That has been especially true at the Wayne plant, where
Ford invested $550 million to retool at the peak of the auto
industry's crisis in 2009.
The bet at the time was that a once wildly profitable hub
for full-size SUVs could be made over to produce the small
Focus and a battery-powered, electric variant.
Ron Andrus, 56, a Wayne worker, said many at his plant were
on edge over the prospect of a strike. "It's all scary as to
what's going to happen," he said.
Some union officials have suggested the worker anger would
be better directed to the national economic debate. The UAW has
endorsed the Occupy Wall Street protest and helped stage an
"Occupy Detroit" rally.
"The Ford workers are angry for the same reasons a lot of
the people are here," said Jaron Garza, a General Motors
UAW-represented worker as he stood in a downtown Detroit park
with more than a thousand others in support of the Occupy Wall
"A lot of the bigger companies, banks and what not, have
been taking, and the middle class has been bearing the brunt of
the recession and the aftershocks that we are still feeling
now," Garza said. "People are angry, and they think they got