* Ratification of Ford contract seems assured
* Mulally pay package angers workers
* Contract votes pit veteran UAW workers against new hires
By Meghana Keshavan and Bernie Woodall
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 Chief Executive
Officer 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.
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, a 49-year-old metal
finisher at the plant. "This vote, it's a matter of people
The Ford contract seemed set for ratification after UAW
leaders stepped up their lobbying for the deal. By Sunday, the
"yes" votes had accounted for 62 percent of all those cast.
But the surprisingly fierce debate over proposed, four-year
contracts at Ford and smaller rival Chrysler Group LLC over the
past week has exposed a rift between lower-paid, entry-level
workers and veterans, as well as anger over CEO pay.
The argument over wages and benefits for 67,000 unionized
Ford and Chrysler autoworkers comes just two years after the
Obama administration intervened to save General Motors
and Chrysler from liquidation. 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 at around 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 2-1 margin. But the debate over parallel
deals at Ford, the strongest of the Detroit automakers, and
Chrysler, the weakest, has turned bitter.
A final ratification vote tally is expected by Wednesday
for Ford and later this month for Chrysler.
'WAIT UNTIL 2015'
In union halls and on Facebook, UAW officials have said
that rejecting the Ford contract would risk a strike, where
workers would take home only $200 a week.
By contrast, the Ford contract would give workers $16,000
in bonuses over four years, including $6,000 at ratification.
Many veteran Ford production workers are unhappy with the
lack of a base wage raise since 2003; they now make about $28
an hour. Mulally's compensation, including a 2010 package worth
$26.5 million, has also been a flashpoint, workers say.
"We know Ford is profitable," said Scott Houldieson,
secretary-treasurer of UAW Local 551, which represents the Ford
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 a grievance over pay that salaried
employees received, but hourly workers did not. An arbitrator
is expected to decide on the issue in mid-November.
Analysts have said the contract at GM and the proposed deal
with Ford would cap costs and link the pay of blue-collar
workers 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.
"Wait until 2015, when the chains come off," one Chrysler
worker wrote on the union's Facebook page.
The undercurrent of frustration stood out at Ford's Wayne
plant, where the automaker invested $550 million for retooling
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 workers direct their
anger to the national economic debate. The UAW has endorsed the
Occupy Wall Street protest and helped stage an "Occupy Detroit"
"The Ford workers are angry for the same reasons a lot of
the people are here," said Jaron Garza, a UAW-represented
General Motors worker as he stood in a downtown Detroit park
with more than 1,000 others in support of the Occupy Wall
"A lot of the bigger companies, banks and whatnot, 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've got
Shares of Ford were down 1.6 percent at $11.38 at midday on
Monday. The stock has lost 32 percent since the start of the
year. Chrysler is controlled by Fiat SpA . Shares of
Fiat are down 30 percent this year.