LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11)- As they exited Louisville's two UAW halls after casting their ballots on a strike authorization vote, local Ford workers said they made big sacrifices four years ago to help Ford survive. Now, they want Ford to restore those concessions and are willing to go on strike if Ford does not agree.
Monday was the first of two days of voting within the membership of United Auto Workers Local 862. Todd Dunn, the local union president, would not predict the outcome but said that in past years, the results have been nearly unanimous in favor of authorizing a strike.
Dunn said the vote is a reflection of solidarity among the union members, sending a unified message to UAW bargainers negotiating a new contract with Ford, GM and Chrysler.
The UAW's contract with the Big Three automakers expires on September 14. UAW officials recently characterized negotiations with Ford as "ahead of schedule," and one report even suggested that a strike authorization vote may not be necessary.
Despite United Auto Workers President Bob King saying Monday that he is "upbeat" about reaching a new contract, Louisville's UAW members sent a message on Monday. They want King to hold Ford's feet to the fire.
"I think a strike. if we have to," said Cathy Pafundi, a 19 year Ford/UAW worker, "I'm going to do what we have to do."
"We want them to just recognize what we gave up," said Timothy Yute, a Ford worker who transferred to the Kentucky Truck Plant from Atlanta five years ago.
"Ford remains committed to working with the UAW to reach an agreement that is fair to our employees and retirees, which continues to support our turnaround efforts in North America at the same time," said Ford spokesperson Marcey Evans.
Four years ago, UAW members agreed to a number of concessions to help Ford avoid bankruptcy. in Louisville, the union members want their leadership to strike a better deal, now.
"We gave up some holidays," said Jason Vaughn, "We gave up some raises."
"The Cost of Living (adjustment) has been taken away," added another KTP worker, "and that's been a big thing, just helping us keep up with inflation."
The strike authorization vote at UAW Local 862 appears to be more than just a formality.
"We actually informed our members, you know now is the time to start saving," Dunn said, "Save your money. Here's how much money you need to save in advance. Here's what you need to do if we go on strike, you know our strike captains. So, we put the machine in place... just in case."
Yet, what if the new contract demands would put Ford back in jeopardy?
"I don't think the company or the employees would let that happen," Pafundi said, "I think we would give up some more if we had to, which I would."
But while the gettin's good?
"But while the gettin's good, I hope we can get some."
The national UAW leadership appears far less demanding, suggesting that instead of pushing for higher wages, the new contract will probably focus on profit sharing in order that the automakers' recovery isn't overburdened with higher fixed costs.
The new Ford/UAW workers now being hired for the rebirth of the Louisville Assembly Plant are in line for wages about half of what current autoworkers earn. The two-tier wage system was a major concession in the 2007 contract. Yet., the UAW President reportedly wants the new contract to move those new workers to higher wages, sooner.
"I think Ford is back on top and will stay on top and is profitable," Vaughn said, "and I think we deserve those things back."
The national union says the new contract needs to keep American automakers competitive. Union members say they have already done that.
Because of details in the auto bailouts, the UAW cannot strike GM or Chrysler, only Ford.