Ford, FCA talks with UAW continue

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DETROIT — As General Motors workers remain on strike, UAW negotiators assigned to meet with Ford Motor Co. have settled more than half of outstanding issues, a top union official said Wednesday.

UAW Vice President Rory Gamble, who is in charge of the union’s relations and bargaining with Ford, said in a letter to workers that 11 of 20 subcommittees meeting with Ford over a new contract have reached tentative agreements. He said “many larger economic and patterned issues” remain unresolved, though, and did not disclose details about which topics have been settled.

Gamble called on Ford workers to stand in solidarity with their GM counterparts who are marching on picket lines for the third straight day. He said Ford subcommittees are talking daily and “will continue to meet on outstanding issues.”

GM, which the UAW designated as the lead company in this year’s negotiations, will set the pattern for deals with Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, but each automaker also has its own bargaining priorities. The union agreed to extend labor contracts with Ford and FCA beyond their expiration last weekend.

Ford’s labor costs, at $61 an hour, are $2 less than GM’s. Of the Detroit 3, Ford employs the most workers and produces the most vehicles in the U.S.

In a similar letter to FCA workers, UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada said bargaining continues with the company.

Estrada did not indicate which subcommittees have reached tentative deals, but noted they meet daily and are working to reach resolutions on non-economic issues such as “health and safety, skilled trades, salary bargaining units, contractual matters” and other areas.

A former negotiator said GM and the union are likely digging in their heels over a few key issues as the strike continues for a third day. Colin Lightbody, a former FCA negotiator who’s now president of a consulting firm, said the use of temporary workers and health care probably remain sticking points after what he said was a “solid economic offer” from GM.

He said those few issues could impact decisions on other topics like wages and bonuses. If the union were to concede on the use of temporary workers to give GM some financial flexibility, for example, he said that’s likely to lead to more dollars to spend on plant investment, raises and bonuses.

Regarding health care, Lightbody in a blog earlier this month offered some ideas to help reduce automakers’ cost while not saddling members with more fees, including mandatory disease management programs, reducing emergency room trips and re-visiting a healthcare consortium – or pool – that was first raised, and voted down, in 2015 to help reduce costs.

But the union has left little room for compromise on health care or the use of temporary workers. In its constitutional convention earlier this year, UAW leaders vowed to create protections for temps and to hold the line on its members’ enviable insurance plans.

“A lot of the time there are some principle things in play,” Lightbody said. “I’m sure both parties are trying their best to get them to common ground, but sometimes it can be difficult.” 

GM’s decision to cancel normal health care coverage for workers drew an angry rebuke from the union. Workers will continue to receive health care coverage through COBRA, and it will be paid through the union’s strike fund.

UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg called the decision “cold, heartless and immoral.”

“One minute they say they care about their workers and next GM is cutting off people’s lifeline,” he said. “We will not allow our members and their families to experience the added burden of worrying about their health coverage while on strike.”

UAW Region 1A Director Chuck Browning on Wednesday sent a letter to GM members encouraging them to continue fighting for a fair contract.

“This is a heavy burden to carry as a member of our great union,” he wrote. “But you are part of a legacy in the UAW that has fought this battle before and prevailed…I can ensure you that together we will last one day longer than the company.”

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