Autoworkers reach deal with Ford, a breakthrough toward ending strikes against Detroit automakers

The four-year deal still has to be approved by 57,000 union members at the company, but the UAW called on Ford workers to return to their jobs including those at the Chicago Assembly Plant.

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United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain speaks during a rally for a crowd of striking workers who wear red UAW shirts.

United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain speaks during a rally for striking workers at United Auto Workers’ Local 551 headquarters on the South Side earlier this month.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

DETROIT — The United Auto Workers union said Wednesday it has reached a tentative contract agreement with Ford that could be a breakthrough toward ending the nearly 6-week-old strikes against Detroit automakers.

The four-year deal, which still has to be approved by 57,000 union members at the company, could bring a close to the union’s series of strikes at targeted factories run by Ford, General Motors and Jeep maker Stellantis.

The Ford deal could set the pattern for agreements with the other two automakers, where workers will remain on strike. The UAW called on all workers at Ford to return to their jobs and said that will put pressure on GM and Stellantis to bargain. Announcements on how to do that will come later.

About 4,600 workers at Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant, 12600 S. Torrence Ave, have been on strike since Sept. 29. The plant produces the Ford Explorer, Lincoln Aviator SUV and the Police Interceptor Utility.

“We told Ford to pony up, and they did,” President Shawn Fain said in a video address to members. “We won things no one thought possible.” He added that Ford put 50% more money on the table than it did before the strike started on Sept. 15.

UAW Vice President Chuck Browning, the chief negotiator with Ford, said workers will get a 25% general wage increase, plus cost of living raises that will put the pay increase over 30%, to above $40 per hour.

Previously Ford, Stellantis and General Motors had all offered 23% pay increases.

Typically, during past auto strikes, a UAW deal with one automaker has led to the other companies matching it with their own settlements.

Browning said temporary workers will get more in wage increases than they have over the past 22 years combined. Temporary workers will get raises over 150% and retirees will get annual bonuses, he said.

“Thanks to the power of our members on the picket line and the threat of more strikes to come, we have won the most lucrative agreement per member since Walter Reuther was president,” Browning said. Reuther led the union from 1946 until his death in 1970.

Fain said that the union’s national leadership council of local union presidents and bargaining chairs will travel Sunday to Detroit, where they’ll get a presentation on the agreement and vote on whether to recommend it to members. Sunday evening the union will host a Facebook Live video appearance and regional meetings to explain the deal to members.

Workers with pensions also will see increases for when they retire, and those hired after 2007 with 401(k) plans will get large increases, Browning said.

For the first time, the union will have the right to go on strike over company plans to close factories, he said.

“That means they can’t keep devastating our communities and closing plants with no consequences,” Browning said. “Together we have made history.”

President Joe Biden applauded the UAW and Ford for “reaching a historic tentative agreement,” in a statement Wednesday night.

“I’ve always believed the middle class built America and unions built the middle class. That is especially the case for UAW workers who built an iconic American industry,” Biden said. “And critical to building an economy from the middle out and bottom up, instead of from the top down, is worker power. It’s showing how collective bargaining works by providing workers a seat at the table and the opportunity to improve their lives while contributing fully to their employer’s success.”

Ford said it is pleased to have reached the deal, and said it would focus on restarting the huge Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville, as well as the Chicago Assembly Plant. The Louisville plant alone employs 8,700 workers and makes high profit heavy duty F-Series pickup trucks and big truck-based SUVs.

In all, 20,000 workers will be coming back on the job and shipping the company’s full lineup of vehicles to customers, Ford said.

Ford’s statement made no mention of the cost of the contract. Company executives said last week they were at the limit of what they could pay while still being able to invest in new vehicles and the transition from internal combustion to electric vehicles.

“This agreement sets us on a new path to make things right at Ford, at the Big Three, and across the auto industry. Together, we are turning the tide for the working class in this country,” Fain said.

Contributing: David Roeder and Lynn Sweet

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