Ford CEO rebuffs UAW leader’s criticisms as strike deadline on Thursday approaches

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Ford CEO Jim Farley speaks with media after revealing the 2024 Ford F-150 for the Detroit auto show on Sept. 12, 2023.

Michael Wayland / CNBC

DETROIT – Ford Motor CEO Jim Farley rebuffed comments by United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain that the company is not taking bargaining seriously ahead of a Thursday night strike deadline, placing blame on the union leader for not showing up to the bargaining table – both figuratively and literally.

Farley said the company has received “no genuine counteroffer” on its four economic proposals, including the latest offer that Ford is calling the most generous offer ever between the UAW and company. He also said Fain, who is simultaneously negotiating with General Motors and Stellantis, was absent during a Tuesday meeting that he and Ford Chair Bill Ford expected Fain to attend.

“We’re here, we’re ready to negotiate, but it’s sure hard to negotiate a contract when there’s no one to negotiate with,” Farley told reporters Wednesday night on the sidelines of the Detroit Auto Show. “We have time left, but it’s hard to negotiate when you don’t get any feedback back.”

Farley’s comments came roughly 24 hours after he told reporters Tuesday that he was optimistic the company could reach a deal with the union.

Public criticism between the union and an automaker aren’t unprecedented but the amount of detail being released, announced strike plans and simultaneous bargaining certainly are.

Farley said he didn’t know Fain had received the offer until he was discussing it during a 5 p.m. Facebook Live with union members. He also questioned whether Fain is too busy already “planning strikes or PR events that we can’t get the feedback to make the best offer.”

UAW President Shawn Fain chairs the 2023 Special Elections Collective Bargaining Convention in Detroit, March 27, 2023.

Rebecca Cook | Reuters

A UAW spokesman did not immediately respond for comment regarding Farley’s comments or a letter released on his behalf by the company countering many of Fain’s criticisms.

The union has argued the companies know their demands. They include: ambitious targets of 40% hourly pay increases, a reduced 32-hour workweek, a shift back to traditional pensions, the elimination of compensation tiers and a restoration of cost-of-living adjustments, among other items.

Farley declined to directly answer a question about whether he believes the union is bargaining in good faith, which could justify a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board.

The UAW late last month filed unfair labor practice charges against GM and Stellantis to the NLRB for not bargaining with the union in good faith or a timely manner. It did not file a complaint against Ford.

Ford CEO: We have yet to receive a legitimate counteroffer from UAW

As released Thursday by the union, Ford’s most recent proposal included some of the union’s demands, but not all of them. It included 20% wage increases; a “deficient” restoration of cost-of-living adjustment, reworked profit-sharing formula; 90-day progression for “temp,” or supplemental, workers to become regular employees; and other benefits such as increased vacation days and two-week paid parental leave.

Fain said Ford and its crosstown rivals rejected the union’s retiree and health-care proposals.

If the UAW and companies cannot reach a deal by an 11:59 p.m. ET Thursday deadline, Fain said the union will implement targeted strikes at certain plants against the Detroit automakers.

During his Facebook event, Fain said he believed strikes against the companies are “likely.”

“To win, we’re likely going to have to take action. Just as we have approached our negotiations differently than we have in the past, we’re preparing to strike these companies in a way they’ve never seen before,” Fain said.

Here is the full text of Farley’s letter following Fain’s remarks:

The Ford team continues to put 100% of our energy into reaching an agreement with the UAW that rewards our valued employees and allows the company to invest in the future. If there is a strike, it’s not because Ford didn’t make a great offer. We have and that’s what we can control.

In fact, we have put four offers on the table starting Aug. 29 and each one has been increasingly generous. We still have not received any genuine counteroffer.

On Tuesday, Bill Ford and I sat down with the union at the main table for a major offer. As we were walking in the room, we learned President Fain would not be attending. Nevertheless, Bill and I laid out a historically generous offer to the UAW Ford bargaining team because we listened to the UAW demands and we care about our employees. Here are the facts. Ford:

• Significantly increased our proposal on wage increases;
• Offered Cost of Living Adjustments, or COLA;
• Fully eliminated wage tiers so all employees can achieve industry-leading wages – and shortened to four from eight years the time it takes hourly employees to reach the top wage;
• Increased contributions to in-progression retirement savings;
• Protected health care benefits that would continue to rank in the top 1% of all employer sponsored medical plans for lowest employee cost sharing; and
• Added more paid time off, with up to five weeks of vacation and 17 paid holidays each year (with the addition of Juneteenth).

The first we learned President Fain received the offer was on Facebook Live this evening. So again, we are here and ready to reach a deal. We should be working creatively to solve hard problems rather than planning strikes and PR events.

Please remember that Ford, more than any other company, has bet on the UAW and treated the UAW with respect. We have been incredibly supportive of the union. We have gone well beyond any contract language in adding jobs and investment.

The future of our industry is at stake. Let’s do everything we can to avert a disastrous outcome.

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