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UAW turns to Ford after GM workers approve new contract

UAW and Ford, the 2nd-largest US carmaker, expect to begin talks on Monday, says union

Detroit

THE United Auto Workers (UAW) union said on Friday that it has chosen Ford Motor Co as the next US carmaker the union will negotiate with after workers at General Motors Co approved a new contract deal.

The UAW said 57 per cent of hourly workers at GM voted to approve the deal to end a contentious 40-day US strike, the longest automotive labour stoppage since 1970.

GM chairman and chief executive Mary Barra said in a statement that the new contract "recognises our employees for the important contributions they make to the overall success of the company, with a strong wage and benefit package and additional investment and job growth in our US operations".

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The UAW and Ford, the second-largest US carmaker, will begin talks on Monday, the union said. Ford and the UAW said earlier this month that they had made "significant progress" in addressing many bargaining issues.

Ford said on Friday that it looks "forward to reaching a fair agreement that helps Ford enhance its competitiveness and preserve and protect good-paying manufacturing jobs."

Unlike GM, Ford has not signalled that it wants to close plants, but executives have said future electric vehicles (EVs) would require 30 per cent fewer labour hours to build. UAW leaders have expressed concern about the impact of EVs on their members.

GM also did little to lower its share of the UAW's healthcare plans, which could be more costly to Ford since it employs about 55,000 UAW members in the United States.

The UAW had previously agreed to a temporary contract extension with Ford while it focused on GM.

While the talks between GM and the UAW grew tense at times, with the union accusing the carmaker of trying to "starve . . . workers off the picket lines", Ford historically has had an easier relationship with the union. Ford executive chairman Bill Ford has described the UAW as "family" in the past and in September 2018 hailed the No 2 US carmaker's relationship with its hourly workers.

"The UAW doesn't just make our workers better, it makes Ford better and stronger," Mr Ford told UAW workers last year.

Workers at GM will begin to go back as early as Saturday under the new four-year contract, ending the strike that cost the No 1 US carmaker more than US$2 billion and costing the carmaker about 300,000 units of lost production. GM will attempt to make up some of that production in the coming months.

The union wrung higher pay and other benefits from GM as part of the deal to end the strike by about 48,000 workers.

UAW leaders had recommended that the members at GM, who have remained on the picket lines, ratify the deal reached on Oct 16.

The GM strike began on Sept 16, with UAW negotiators seeking higher pay for workers, greater job security, a bigger share of profit and protection of healthcare benefits. Other issues included the fate of plants GM targeted to close, as well as the use of lower-paid temporary workers.

The strike at GM likely slashed at least 46,000 jobs from October's nonfarm US payrolls, the Labor Department said on Friday.

Under the deal, GM will invest US$9 billion in the US, including US$7.7 directly in its plants, with the rest going to joint ventures. The Detroit company said it will also create or retain 9,000 UAW jobs, a substantial portion of which will be new, a source previously said. The contract offers US$11,000 signing bonuses to members, and pay raises.

The UAW previously agreed to temporary contract extensions with Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles while it focused on GM. REUTERS