LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – One week after the United Auto Workers and Ford Motor Company announced a contract agreement that promises more than 1000 additional jobs in Louisville and a $600 million investment at the Kentucky Truck Plant, some veteran workers are balking at the deal.
"After all of the concessions we've given up over the last five or six years, basically we were being told that when Ford was doing better, we would get these concessions back," said Gary Walkowicz, a Bargaining Committeeman for UAW Local 600 in Dearborn, Michigan, "And in fact with this contract, we got none of them back. In fact, it seems that Ford is trying to make the concessions permanent."
Walkowicz is leading the national effort to reject the contract. Jeff Redden is leading the local effort against ratification.
"From the people I've talked to in the plant, everybody's voting no," said Redden, a 16 year Kentucky Truck Plant (KTP) worker. "I haven't found anybody to admit that they are going to vote yes."
Asked whether his efforts were jeopardizing the jobs, KTP investment and job security promised in the contract, Redden said that Ford was "going to do that anyhow. It doesn't have anything to do with us."
Late Wednesday, a Ford spokesperson contradicted Redden.
"The jobs are tied directly to the contract," said Kelli Felker, Ford's Global Broadcast Communications Manager.
"We remain optimistic that the tentative agreement will be approved," said Marcey Evans, another Ford spokesperson, "We believe it is fair to our employees and improves Ford's competitiveness in the U.S.."
The new four year contract includes a $6000 signing bonus for each UAW-Ford worker, $6000 more over four years, and profit sharing.
Redden says that's not enough because in 2007, workers were led to believe that concessions would be reversed in the next contract. At issue are pay raises, a cost of living adjustment, break time, and overtime after eight hours.
Walkowicz estimates that the 2007 contract has cost each worker $30,000 since then.
By a narrow margin, UAW Local 900 workers at two Michigan Ford plants rejected the contract agreement in vote results announced on Tuesday.
Other results, however, show support for the ratification. 56 percent of UAW Local 1216 members in Sandusky, Ohio approved the contract.
And, on Wednesday, roughly 65 percent of UAW Local 228 members in Sterling Heights, Michigan voted to approve the contract, according to a web posting of results.
But the vast majority of UAW Ford workers have yet to vote.
UAW Local 862 in Louisville plans an informational meeting on Saturday and the vote on Monday and Tuesday.
With 3,847 UAW members currently employed at KTP and 1550 at the Louisville Assembly Plant, local autoworkers comprise about 13 percent of the UAW workforce, a key voting bloc in the contract ratification.
Though one of the UAW's contract negotiators is the top union official at the Kentucky Truck Plant, the local union leadership said it will simply inform its members of the details of the contract but will not advocate for its ratification.
Yet, Scott Eskridge, the KTP Building Chairman, makes a case for the contract in a letter to Local 862 members.
"I was on the team that negotiated this tentative agreement and I will vote to ratify it," writes Eskridge, "It does not have everything that I had hoped to gain in this round of negotiations, such as a pay raise or cost of living allowance. I was a very strong and vocal proponent of these issues at the table. This tentative agreement does give us stronger job security in assembly plants across the United States and the ability to move forward to reap additional financial gains from a profitable Ford Motor Company. It allows the union's numbers to grow in the United States which will put us in a stronger bargaining position in the future."
"They've gotten too cozy with the company," countered Redden, who alleges that the UAW leadership agreed to a $6000 bonus per worker because the union can take its cut from each worker's bonus - immediately.
"With 41,000 employees, that's $30 million," Redden said, "If they give us a three percent raise right now, that's it, it will be $3 million. Which one would you push your membership to vote for?"
"I think this is a perfect example of what the protesters on Wall Street are protesting about." Redden said.
"It's a race to the bottom," Walkowicz characterized the downward pressure on Ford wages, "and I think every time we go along with more concessions or don't make the fight to get back what we've lost, we're continuing that downward spiral."
Walkowicz said a strike is possible if he is successful and the contract is rejected.
"If it means going on strike, if that comes down to that, if that's what it takes to stop the downward spiral, to regain our concessions, are we ready to do that? I think a lot of workers are telling me, they are," he said.
A UAW Facebook post on Wednesday said that the union will seek a strike if members reject the contract.
“Vice President (Jimmy) Settles has advised the membership during informational meetings that if the agreement is not ratified, he will ask the International Executive Board to authorize a strike,” the UAW Ford Department post said. “If so, he will then give 72 hour notice to the company that we intend to strike.”
Yet, the UAW Ford Department backtracked on its Facebook post which stated that Settles expected Ford to "hire scab laborers" if UAW members reject the contract.
"There was a post that erroneously said that earlier," the UAW Ford Department post said, "He is still very optimistic that this agreement will pass. This is a democratic process and we encourage all members to listen to the facts from the people who negotiated the contract before you vote. Thank you."