December 20, 2014

Elyria
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United Auto Workers vote extended through Tuesday

LORAIN — United Auto Workers negotiators implored members of UAW Local 2000 on Sunday to vote for a proposed four-year contract with Ford Motor Co., saying it was the best deal they could get in bad economic times.

Given the flood of union jobs sent over the border and overseas in the last 20 years — just 41,000 of Ford’s 166,000 hourly workers are in the U.S. and just 27 of its 70 plants — health and safety representative Garry Sommerville said the proposed agreement is laudable. He noted the proposal calls for Ford to move production of medium-sized trucks and motor home chassis from Mexico to the Ohio Assembly Plant at 650 Miller Road in Avon Lake. The vehicles would replace the Econoline vans produced in Avon Lake and scheduled to be phased out in 2014.

“Nobody thought we were going to be able to turn the tables. We did that,” Sommerville told an audience of about 150 workers at Lorain High School. “The American people cannot afford to lose the auto industry. We need to use this contract to turn things around.”

The four-year pact calls for creating 5,750 jobs and investing $16 billion including $6.3 billion to retool and upgrade plants. The Avon Lake plant would receive $128 million.

Local 2000 workers will finish voting at the Avon Lake plant between 5 a.m. and 9 p.m. Tuesday. Local 2000 President Jerome Williams said the vote was extended because the plant has been on a two-week shutdown and not all workers may have been aware of the Sunday vote.

At 8:30 p.m. Sunday, the UAW’s Ford Facebook page reported 62 percent of workers nationally had voted for ratification. But some workers at the high school were skeptical about Ford’s commitment to the Avon Lake plant given the economic free fall.

“We’ve been lied to by the company before,” worker Mary Springowski told the 10 union leaders who assembled in the high school auditorium while members voted outside. “What are you going to do to hold their feet to the fire so they don’t lie to us again?”

National servicing representative Michael Black said Springowski’s skepticism was warranted, but said the deal — which calls for profit sharing and $1,500 yearly bonuses rather than the cost of living adjustment frozen in the 2009 concessions — allows Ford to remain competitive. Black said that’s essential for creating and retaining jobs.

“This company’s got to get on firmer ground,” he said. “Volkswagen’s already put a target on our backs and they’re coming after us.”

Reached by phone after the meeting, Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans said she couldn’t comment on specifics of the contract until it is ratified or rejected.

“We’re working to improve our competitiveness in the U.S.,” she said. “This tentative agreement is fair to employees and improves Ford’s competitiveness in the U.S.”

Other workers criticized what they see as a global playing field tilted toward countries like China, which critics say manipulates its currency to restrict imports while maximizing exports. Workers also questioned whether their pensions would be there when they retired — the UAW is responsible for pensions under the Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Agreement — and whether they were eligible for $50,000 and $100,000 retirement bonuses. They also asked about local negotiations.

Local 2000 Unit 1 Chairman Tim Rowe said the union is close to reaching a local agreement despite some stumbling blocks.

“They don’t want to move and we don’t want to move,” he said. “(But) we’ll get there.”
Rowe said after the meeting that he didn’t believe the two-tiered wage system — in which new workers make about half as much as long-term workers and have fewer benefits — will erode long-term support for the union.

Rowe noted that new workers’ salaries would increase from about $15.50 per hour to about $19.28 per hour over four years. Rowe, a Ford worker since 1973, said the union would have liked cost of living increases, but given the economy they were unrealistic. He predicted pensions would be safe because Ford will remain profitable by meeting customer desires and demands.

Despite her reservations, Springowski, a Ford worker since 1991, said she voted for the contract particularly because of the precarious global economy.

“By no means is it a great contract. There are many things that need to be fixed in this,” she said. “That being said, we also need to live to fight another day.”

The proposed deal

The United Auto Workers leadership is recommending the rank and file accept a four-year contract with Ford Motor Co. The proposed contract includes:

  • 5,750 new jobs.
  • $16 billion in investment including $6.3 billion for retooling and upgrading plants including $128 million for the Ohio Assembly Plant in Avon Lake.
  • Moving the medium-truck and motor chassis production from Mexico to the Avon Lake plant.
  • No annual cost of living adjustments, but $6,000 lump sums upon ratification for workers with one year or more of service and $5,000 for those with less than one year of service.
  • Annual $1,500 “inflation protection” payments.
  • Continuation of two-tiered salaries, but increase in starting wages from $15.50 to $19.28 by the end of the contract.

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.