Ford Motor Co. Executive Chairman William Clay Ford Jr. made a rare public statement on Monday, urging the striking workers of the United Auto Workers (UAW) union to end their historic work stoppage and reach a deal with the company.
UAW Strike Threatens Ford’s Future and American Auto Industry
The UAW strike, which began on Sept. 15, has affected six assembly plants and 38 parts distribution facilities run by General Motors, Ford and Stellantis. About 34,000 UAW members — 24% of members employed by Detroit automakers — have walked out, demanding higher wages, better benefits and more job security.
Ford said the strike has put the company and the American auto industry at a crossroads, as they face increasing competition from foreign and electric car makers.
“Choosing the right path isn’t just about Ford’s future and our ability to compete. This is about the future of the American automobile industry,” he said.
He added that the strike has given an advantage to rivals such as Toyota, Honda, Tesla and Chinese companies that want to enter the U.S. market.
“Toyota, Honda, Tesla and the others are loving this strike because they know the longer it goes on, the better it is for them,” he said. “They will win and all of us will lose.”
Ford Calls for Cooperation, Not Confrontation
Ford spoke to reporters at the visitors center at the historic Rouge manufacturing complex, the site of one of the bloodiest labor battles in U.S. history. He said he wanted to “elevate” the conversation about the contract negotiations and appeal directly to the UAW workers, bypassing their union leaders.
“The UAW leaders have called us the enemy in these negotiations. But I will never consider our employees as enemies,” said Ford, who added that he considers many union members to be close personal friends.
“This should not be Ford vs. the UAW. It should be Ford and the UAW vs. Toyota, Honda, Tesla, and all the Chinese companies that want to enter our home market,” he said.
He also said that the company has offered record contracts to the workers, including raises above 20%, benefit improvements and increased job security. A Ford executive said last week that the company had “reached our limit” on its offer.
UAW President Rejects Ford’s Plea and Ramps Up Pressure
UAW President Shawn Fain responded to Ford’s plea by ratcheting up the pressure on the company. He said that Ford knows exactly how to settle the strike and accused him of threatening to close the Rouge complex.
“Bill Ford knows exactly how to settle this strike. Instead of threatening to close the Rouge, he should call up [Ford CEO] Jim Farley, tell him to stop playing games and get a deal done, or we’ll close the Rouge for him,” he said in a statement.
He also said that it’s not the UAW and Ford against foreign automakers, but autoworkers everywhere against corporate greed.
“It’s not the UAW and Ford against foreign automakers. It’s autoworkers everywhere against corporate greed. If Ford wants to be the all-American auto company, they can pay all-American wages and benefits. Workers at Tesla, Toyota, Honda, and others are not the enemy — they’re the UAW members of the future.”
Ford did not threaten to close the Rouge complex in his remarks. He did mention that if American carmakers lose to the competition, then jobs, future investments and “factories like the one we are in today” will be lost.
The Bottom Line
It’s not clear that Ford’s end run around UAW negotiators at the bargaining table will change anything. The strike has had a ripple effect across the industry, causing layoffs across the supplier network and even putting non-striking UAW members on furlough.
The strike is also costing automakers millions of dollars in lost production every day. Analysts estimate that GM has lost about $1 billion in profits so far due to the strike.
The UAW has not indicated when it will resume talks with Ford or GM. The union has also expanded its strike actions to target other facilities run by Stellantis and parts suppliers.