In an unexpected move, the United Auto Workers union has expanded its strikes against Ford Motor Company to include the automaker’s profitable Kentucky Truck Plant. The surprise walkout signals a significant escalation in the ongoing labor dispute.
The strike began at 6:30 pm ET on Wednesday, October 11 at Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant, which employs 8,700 UAW members. The facility produces highly lucrative Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs along with the Ford Super Duty pickup trucks.
This marks the first time the UAW has targeted Ford’s largest plant in the US in terms of employment and revenue. It represents a shift in the union’s strategy of announcing strike targets beforehand under UAW President Shawn Fain.
Previously, Fain publicly named which Ford plants would face “targeted” or “stand-up” strikes before they occurred. This time, the UAW informed Ford of the walkout just hours before launching the work stoppage.
According to a Ford source, the UAW requested a new economic counteroffer from Ford by 5 pm ET on Wednesday. This was followed by a bargaining committee meeting at 5:30 pm, including President Fain.
Within 10 minutes, Fain stated Ford had “lost Kentucky Truck” and the strike was called. The UAW said Ford failed to make further movements in negotiations, prompting the surprise action.
Ford Claims UAW Leadership Acting Irresponsibly
In response, Ford said the decision was “grossly irresponsible but unsurprising” given the UAW’s aim to keep US automakers “wounded” for months.
Ford referred to leaked UAW messages last month that discussed using “reputational damage” and “industrial chaos” as bargaining tactics against the Detroit Three.
The company argues this shows the union was never truly interested in reaching a deal. Fain maintains the UAW has been clear in its demands and waited long enough for a fair agreement.
“If they can’t understand that after four weeks, the 8,700 workers shutting down this extremely profitable plant will help them understand it,” said Fain.
Ford stated it presented an “outstanding offer” and had bargained in good faith on proposed joint venture battery plants. These have become a key focus in recent talks.
General Motors agreed last week to include its new EV battery plant staff under the UAW national contract. This was hailed as a “transformative win” by Fain, who expects Ford and Chrysler to follow suit.
Massive Disruption Now Expected
Ford says the additional strike puts at risk around a dozen more Ford operations and “many more supplier operations” affecting over 100,000 jobs.
This represents the largest escalation so far in the targeted UAW strikes against US automakers. The action comes after the union and Ford failed to reach tentative agreements following the expiration of contracts on September 14.
The Kentucky Truck Plant walkout brings the total number of UAW members currently striking against US automakers to around 34,000. This equates to approximately 23% of UAW-represented workers under the expired contracts.
UAW Ramps Up Pressure After Weeks of Smaller Strikes
The UAW has taken an incremental approach since launching strikes after the initial contract deadline passed. The union began with brief, targeted walkouts at smaller facilities before expanding.
Now, the UAW has employed its biggest leverage yet with the crucial Kentucky plant responsible for Ford’s most profitable vehicles, the Expedition, Navigator, and F-Series.
The unexpected move turns up the heat tremendously on Ford after nearly four weeks of smaller-scale strikes failed to push the automaker to meet UAW demands.
UAW Says Change in Tactics Needed to Get Ford to Bargain Seriously
President Fain emphasized the union has shown patience but Ford is still not taking the situation seriously enough. Shutting down Kentucky Truck will demonstrate the UAW’s resolve.
The UAW appears frustrated with the lack of progress made with Ford compared to GM and Stellantis so far. Hence, the more aggressive surprise strike to disrupt key operations.
Despite the heightened tensions, Fain maintains that the UAW has diligently bargained in good faith and merely seeks an equitable deal. The union feels Ford has not matched its commitment or urgency.
According to Fain, “We have been crystal clear, and we have waited long enough, but Ford has not gotten the message.” The dramatic action at Kentucky Truck aims to finally drive the point home.
Ford Downplays Impact, But Disruption Likely to be Severe
Although Ford claims it can limit the fallout across its network, analysts expect the company will be hard hit by the huge Kentucky plant closure.
The large-scale Kentucky walkout follows earlier sporadic UAW strikes shutting down production at Ford engine and assembly plants in Ohio and Michigan.
Combined with the loss of Kentucky output, Ford will struggle to keep manufacturing lines running, despite its efforts to mitigate the effects.
The expanding strikes come as Ford faces an existing shortage of critical parts, including semiconductor chips. Ford CFO John Lawler recently described 2022 as “the year of constraints”. The UAW actions stand to compound these difficulties dramatically.
As the most profitable portion of Ford’s business, the loss of the Kentucky plant for any prolonged period could affect revenue and earnings substantially.
Outlook Going Forward: Can Progress Be Made?
With no tentative deal in sight after nearly a month of targeted walkouts, the UAW has shown it means business by striking Kentucky Truck.
The big question now is whether the move will bring Ford back to the table ready to make serious concessions, or lead to further conflict.
If Ford fails to put forward an improved offer, the UAW may potentially broaden strikes to more plants to maximize pressure.
But Ford will not want to appear like it is yielding directly to strike tactics after condemning the UAW’s approach publicly.
Hence, despite the added leverage, the UAW faces ongoing challenges to get the remaining automakers to agree to its key demands around wages, benefits, outsourcing protections, and new EV jobs.
The stakes are undoubtedly higher now for both sides after the union’s dramatic escalation. All eyes will be on whether constructive talks can resume or if the standoff deteriorates.
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