At Ford, Grievances Are Job One

UAW's complaint is a stretch

Shortly after Ford reported profits of $2.7 billion in 2009, the United Auto Workers responded by filing a grievance against the company. The union’s grievance against the company was not, strictly speaking, for making a profit — that’s apparently still allowed under the contract — but for rewarding someone aside from UAW-represented workers.

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The company’s UAW-represented hourly workers can look forward to profit-sharing checks, but the company is also restoring merit pay and retirement fund contributions for its salaried workers, who are not represented by the UAW.  This is unacceptable to the union. Keith Brown, President of UAW Local 245, summed up the union’s complaint as follows:

We are outraged that after UAW members have sacrificed so much to keep Ford viable that Ford would so irresponsibly violate the terms of the letter of understanding in the 2007 UAW Ford National Collective Bargaining Agreement and the 2009 Modification dealing with Equality of Sacrifice.

We’re unable to find the 2009 modifications, but we do have a copy of the 2007 contract and the letter of understanding from Bill Dirksen, Ford's executive director of US Labor Affairs, to UAW Vice President Bob King. Unless the language has been changed dramatically since then, the UAW’s grievance would seem to be a bit of a stretch. The company does assure the union that “sacrifices by the UAW-represented employees are reflected in the pay and benefit practices of all non-represented employees,” but does not guarantee that this will continue indefinitely. Nor does it establish that pay and benefits for hourly and salaried employees will be restored in lockstep. In fact, Dirksen specifically states that “the company does not negotiate the wages and benefits for non-represented employees.”

In a sane world, such a letter would be taken as a general aspiration, not a binding legal agreement. At any rate, since UAW workers are looking forward to profit sharing, it shouldn’t come as a shock if the company restores some perks for its white-collar work force as well. Having dodged bankruptcy at a time when the other two automakers with UAW-represented work forces underwent reorganization, and then returning to profitability before most experts would have predicted, it’s entirely appropriate for Ford to reward its engineers, designers, executives, and the rest of its non-unionized work force. Solidarity House looks petty or foolish or maybe both for making this the basis of a grievance.