Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Auto Workers Union Targets Ford

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Auto Workers Union Targets Ford

Article excerpt

DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) _ Ford Motor Co., which lobbied for a year to be the lead company in negotiating a new contract with the United Auto Workers, got its wish Monday when the union picked Ford as its bargaining target.

The selection gives Ford the greatest control over what the labor agreement covering 400,000 UAW members at the Big Three auto companies will look like. But it also puts pressure on Ford to reach agreement by midnight Sept. 14 or risk being struck.

Once a contract is reached at Ford, the basic document will be used to reach agreements with General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Corp.

Health care costs, job security and retiree benefits were expected to be the most difficult issues at this year's talks. But neither union nor company officials expect a strike at Ford, which is the healthiest automaker financially and has amicable relations with the union that represents 96,000 of its workers.

Ford, which was last the union's target in 1987, has not been struck since a 28-day walkout in 1976.

Ford had publicly sought to be the UAW's target. By going to the table first, the company will have the biggest say of any of the Big Three over the industry's national contract. While the other automakers are technically not bound by a Ford-UAW contract, they are not expected to abandon the tradition of using the target agreement as a pattern for their own talks.

UAW President Owen Bieber said neither Ford's lobbying nor GM's decision against making an initial contract offer last week affected his recommendation to the UAW's executive board.

"You look at a whole host of things," Bieber said at a news conference after announcing the decision to presidents and shop chairmen of UAW locals from around the country.

Vice President Ernie Lofton, who heads the UAW's Ford department, said upon reviewing the No. 2 automaker's initial contract offer last week that he thought it could form the framework of a settlement.

However, Ford's proposal included a demand that UAW members pay more toward their health benefits, an area the union has said is nonnegotiable. Bieber reiterated that stand Monday.

"We negotiated health care benefits and have continued to improve them," Bieber said. …

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