Home » Bill Ford And The UAW’s Shawn Fain Are Speaking Two Different Languages

Bill Ford And The UAW’s Shawn Fain Are Speaking Two Different Languages

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As the United Auto Workers strike enters its second month, the union has targeted much of its animosity at Ford Motor Company. Its Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Mich., was among the first group of plants struck by the union. Last week, the U.A.W. added Ford’s Kentucky Truck Plant, a manufacturing behemoth, to the walkouts.

[Ed Note: Ford Chairman Bill Ford spoke earlier today to address the existing gap between his family’s company and the UAW. Micheline Maynard, an award-winning journalist and author who covered the industry as the Detroit bureau chief for The New York Times, wrote this piece earlier for her Substack Intersection: Everything That Moves, which you can subscribe to here. We’re reprinting it her with permission.]

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Shawn Fain, the U.A.W. president, can be speaking of only one person when he wears a T-shirt that reads “Eat The Rich” and talks repeatedly about the billionaire class. While the other auto company chief executives have reaped millions in compensation, only Bill Ford Jr.’s family have collectively ranked as billionaires.

And yet, the concept of management-labor cooperation in the American auto industry has its roots at Ford four decades ago. When the union failed to get a deal at General Motors in 1982, it put those talks on hold, and went to Ford. There, company executives adopted a partnership attitude that was supposed to reap benefits for workers, which Ford would argue it has, but which indirectly besmirched the union’s reputation.

On Monday, Bill Ford said everything that would have been well-received by union officials and most likely union members only a few years ago. “It doesn’t have to go this way,” Ford said in a broadcast from the company’s sprawling Rouge complex in Dearborn, Mich. “We can stop this now.”

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Ford pointed out that it is the only U.S. carmaker to add U.A.W. jobs the past few years and that the company is “the strongest partner the U.A.W. has ever known. At the end of the day, we’ve always recognized that we are all Ford, and we will succeed or fail together,” he said.

It’s true that auto workers in Detroit have always viewed Ford in a more-human way than the other carmakers. Generations of union members have said they worked at “Ford’s” meaning the Ford family’s company. It has been decades since anyone used the nickname “Generous Motors” for G.M., and Stellanis is only a two-year-old brand name.

Not Time to Stop

But appealing to nostalgia is not a tactic that works with Fain.

As I listened to Ford speak, another scene popped into my head — one from Funny Face, the classic movie starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. Audrey is gliding down a staircase at the Louvre, in a bright red dress, gaining speed as she descends.

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“Stop! Stop!” declares Fred, trying to get a shot. “I don’t want to stop,” Audrey replies.

Ford and other company officials have talked repeatedly about the generous economic offer that the automaker is making to the union. But Fain has made clear before and since the strike that a generous pay package is not all that the union is seeking.

In this single set of negotiations, Fain wants to undo all of the concessions made by the U.A.W. since 2007 and especially since the Obama Administration’s auto rescue plan in 2009.

He would like to reinstate contract provisions that have not been in effect for 15 years or more — the return of Cost of Living Allowances, the virtual elimination of tiers of workers, full wages and benefits for everyone on the factory floor. Moreover, the U.A.W. wants to have a say in future company directions such as the merge into electric cars.

A Fundamental Miscommunication

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This is where Ford and Fain are speaking two different languages. Ford is saying everything that exemplified cooperation in a pre-2007 world. Fain is speaking from the reality of a 2023 world and beyond.

Ford pointed out that only four generations of his family have led the auto company since its founding in 1903. “It’s personal for me,” he said on Monday.

It is personal for Fain, too, in a different way. He frequently shows off his grandfather’s pay stub as proof of his own deep automotive roots, but his own stature is significant, too.

Fain is the first directly elected U.A.W. leader in the union’s history. He is also the first elected leader to succeed the U.A.W. presidents and other officials who went to prison. As such, he is tasked with a monumental clean-up.

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Not only is Fain trying to restore years of concessions. He is trying to prove that the union can again lead the union movement without anyone questioning his integrity. There was not a peep of scandal about legendary U.A.W. presidents such as Walter Reuther, Leonard Woodcock and Doug Fraser, among others.

But the labor-management cooperation that kicked off at Ford in 1982 subsequently mushroomed out of control. Union presidents began playing golf with company leaders, attending black-tie events and then, defrauding joint training funds.

The scandal blew up during the pandemic at Fiat Chrysler, now called Stellanis, resulting in jail terms and plea agreements between the Justice Department and more than 17 U.A.W. defendants. It also resulted in a federal monitor of the union whose term will run another five years.

Where Ford talks about a partnership, Fain hears what led to irresistible temptation for his predecessors and colleagues.

There is no doubt that Bill Ford is sincere. “Let’s come together, and reach an agreement, so we can take the fight to the real competition and build a great company for years to come,” he said Monday.

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It is simply extraordinary to listen to him and other company executives during the strike. In previous times, officials at the automakers went absolutely silent during negotiations and walkouts.

In fact, so did union leaders, save for occasional appearances to rally their troops. So, we’re in a unique situation where the union and Ford are regularly speaking out. Yet, neither one of them are comprehending what the other is saying. Until they do, an end will not come quickly.

[This piece was republished with permission from Micki’s excellent Substack Intersection: Everything That Moves, which you can subscribe to here.]

Photo Illustration: UAW

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Rockafella
Rockafella
8 months ago

What’s missing here is both sides asking the other “what would you do if you are me?”

Would the UAW still try and go for a decade of back pay and benefits if they knew it would sacrifice their future?

Would the automakers continue with an environment that fosters worker dissatisfaction when they are trying to be nimble and innovative?

That being said, Fain and Ford are both right. Workers have real economic pain. The big 3 is at real risk for auto’s next chapter.

The idea that union labor builds cars at (current and future) competitors is a false equivalency even if it were true. It doesn’t matter if the labor is union or not, it matters if it is cost competitive. Fix that and you get progress.

If it were me, I would give the union both the 40% raise AND the four day work week if they unionize the transplant factories AND Tesla.

Unions are supposed to level the playing field, but this doesn’t work if it is only for some players. Economically, the non union plants are on steroids. Yes, the big 3 put up billions in profit. But have you seen the other non union manufacturers?

Last edited 8 months ago by Rockafella
Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago

Funny I was just reading Fein before being elected was in the top 5% of income in the USA and with his additional pay top 1%. Yeah the UAW haven’t pulled their heads out of their as:: sand yet. I expect another investigation soon

Rockafella
Rockafella
8 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Fain is pulling a page from the political playbook. Deflect attention from his personal situation being part of the problem by promising what you can’t deliver to people who need the hope. Get a little of something in terms of concessions (wage or otherwise) and change the definition of success.

Can hear it already “record UAW contract under my leadership”. Yes, but that was true before the strikes. Let’s ask what INCREMENTALLY the strikes again.

You read it here first folks.

Skurdnee
Skurdnee
8 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

What? He’s been a UAW member for 29 years. His dad was a police chief. He’s certainly not broke but he’s nowhere near the 1%, which would be a yearly income of $819,324.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago
Reply to  Skurdnee

Well top 1% in his state. He makes $187,000 teaching a non-profit class for UAW AND $347,000 as president of UAW. Over half million a year.

Skurdnee
Skurdnee
7 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

Good for him. We need more people making $500k/year fighting for those making less.

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
8 months ago

Until Ford, or anyone, gets on TV and addresses their obscene wealth in the face of wage stagnation, I could give a shit what they have to say.

Austin Vail
Austin Vail
8 months ago

UAW strike updates are my favorite soap opera now.

Greg
Greg
8 months ago

Not saying the union shouldn’t get some or a lot of what they want, but I am going to say that they are going to lose their jobs in areas without many other types of jobs if they don’t get back to work soon. Biden admin recently handed out 500k work visas and I bet more are coming.

Last edited 8 months ago by Greg
Mister Win
Mister Win
8 months ago
Reply to  Greg

Found the Ford executive!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago
Reply to  Greg

I am sure that the remaining UAW workers will get the raise. The 60% who lose their jobs will not celebrate their win in the unemployment line

Greg
Greg
8 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

You must work with me at Ford!

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago
Reply to  Greg

No just a student of history, economics, and not having a bet on the fight.
But believe me or not I hope you get a raise, you deserve it. And it doesn’t come at the expense of others. Not likely.

Last edited 8 months ago by Mr Sarcastic
Greg
Greg
8 months ago
Reply to  Mr Sarcastic

I am just joking, I don’t work at ford, one of the commenters above accused me, I believe jokingly as well.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago
Reply to  Greg

No problem

Josh
Josh
8 months ago

I know this will be unpopular on this site but UAW needs to get with the program. The reality is we have a global market, and the Detroit 3 have to complete with everyone else who already has much cheaper labor. Non-UAW workers already make $20 an hour less than UAW members, and all 3 of the big 3 made exceptional, borderline dangerous offers that take UAW members’ existing healthily middle class salaries up a lucrative amount. Rejecting Ford’s most recent offer is so incredibly short sighted. Bill is right – they’re practically begging to be replaced with either foreign labor where they won’t have to deal with UAW, or robotics, which are more consistent than humans and don’t call in sick. The market simply can’t support their demands – they’re (in the long run) picketing themselves out of their jobs.

TXJeepGuy
TXJeepGuy
8 months ago
Reply to  Josh

There was a great opinion piece on Automotive News this morning saying that the automakers should bump in exchange for the union agreeing those bumps only hold if they can successfully unionize the non-union plants in the US; Fain said the employees there are “future UAW members” so its not a terrible idea if he believes he can be successful there…

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
8 months ago
Reply to  TXJeepGuy

I don’t think the transplants and Tesla/Rivian/etc necessarily pay that much less to their workers. They just avoid the corruption, featherbedding, and inefficiency that the UAW brings to the process. That in itself is probably good for a 20% labor cost savings.

Mr Sarcastic
Mr Sarcastic
8 months ago
Reply to  TXJeepGuy

Never happen the union takes a mafioso like cut from the union members and only gives them tales that they are better than non union. I will take a nonunion Toyota from Arkansas over 5 Ford anything. Ford can’t build anything on launch without multiple recalls. Yet they want higher pay for shit build. I will never buy American union anything again. I wasted my money in the 70s through the 90s.

Josh
Josh
8 months ago
Reply to  TXJeepGuy

Goodness I hope not. If they stay on this path and do that they’ll kill what’s left of the US automotive manufacturing market.

Rockafella
Rockafella
8 months ago
Reply to  TXJeepGuy

I completely agree with this. Both sides being held accountable.

Executives get paid for hitting their targets, predominantly in profit. Personally, I would like to see quality and market share metrics as well.

Unions should be the same. You level our economic playing field for all auto plants, then you get what you ask for contract wise.

I think it should be like how the entertainment industry works. There is just a going rate for labor, regardless of which studio or production company you are.

Then the companies compete on the strength of their products, strategy, and execution!

Pupmeow
Pupmeow
8 months ago
Reply to  Josh

You can’t have this conversation and not discuss this difference in labor-to-executive pay rations over the past 50 years. It’s completely disingenuous.

Josh
Josh
8 months ago
Reply to  Pupmeow

You absolutely can. Jim Farley’s salary amortized across every car is $4.89/car ($22 million distributed over 4.5 million cars). It’s really really hard for a single expense to eclipse that of a large enterprise like manufacturing costs. Even if Jim took a $0 salary the car would cost $4.89 less. Put another way, if Jim Farley made $0 and Ford used that money to increase salaries of its employees each person would only make $120 more per year. No matter how you do the math, the CEO salary really doesn’t affect this. However, competitiveness with other US and global manufacturing absolutely does.

Mr. Fusion
Mr. Fusion
8 months ago
Reply to  Josh

Don’t buy the Chicken Little approach. Much of that fierce competition from the “global market” is coming from union shops in Europe and Asia. Somehow they are able to endure unions and remain competitive.

Josh
Josh
8 months ago
Reply to  Mr. Fusion

If a union keeps its employers’ competitiveness in mind or has fewer government protections it can work. Neither are working here though – US laws let the union hold the companies hostage and Fain couldn’t care less if he bankrupts all of the big 3, so long as he gets big salaries now.

Last edited 8 months ago by Josh
Vee
Vee
8 months ago
Reply to  Josh

“Boss makes ten bucks
I make jack
That’s why his Mercedes’
Windshield is cracked”

Unless and until there is actual retribution against the assets of the wealthy they will continue to use those assets to accrue even more and use them to disempower us. These assets include organizations, funding schemes, physical property, patents and copyrights, geopolitical influence, and governmental institutions. The assets you propose as being used to threaten the UAW being organizations, physical property, and geopolitical influence.

In other words, the suits can’t exploit you if you literally (I mean literally, not the Millenial exaggeration “literally”) destroy their expensive things.

They can only exist in the U.S. because pretty much every other economy with a large enough export market has already protected itself via legislation (The European Economic Bloc and the Commonwealth) or is hostile to non-natives (China, Japan, India, and Brazil), meaning they can’t use their assets to operate the same way they do here. They have nowhere else to run, no matter how much they threaten to. If they outsource all the work to a hostile market they lose control of their assets and stop being rich, and they’re terrified of that.

Josh
Josh
8 months ago
Reply to  Vee

I’m with you on copyrights and patents being troublesome things but the rest of this is so off. Free market economics genuinely raises all boats. We’re better off as a society when we reward those who have good ideas and bring them to fruition, and attacking those lowers the tide and in the process lowers everyone’s boats.

Vee
Vee
8 months ago
Reply to  Josh

The problem is the wealthy have been firing grapeshot from their giant sloops and purposely sinking everyone else’s dories. If these people can take advantage of an idea they had that’s fine. But the reality is that they aren’t just taking advantage of their idea, they’re wrapping their arms around everything like a cartoon character with poker chips so that they can purposely deprive others of it. They aren’t competing, they’re sabotaging and gatekeeping, just like in the Gilded Age when Standard Oil, Carnegie Steel, and J.P. Morgan & Co. controlled Congress and held massive monopolies that shut out anybody from growing beyond a small regional player.

Think of how Elon Musk for example used his liquidity and his standing with the California Department Of Transportation to start both Hyperloop and The Boring Company to try and kill the California High Speed Rail Project and the Amtrak Northeast Corridor expansion because California and New England are where he sells a majority of Teslas. That is exactly the kind of shit I’m talking about.

For the love of everything, William Clay Ford is worth $1,400,000,000 (that’s one point four billion dollars with eight zeroes) and makes $18,600,000 a year just for being distantly related to a guy who’s been dead since 1947. In Pennsylvania the median yearly income for a single person is $34,250. Meaning that if that person worked that same job, at the same pay, it would take them 43,410 years to get the $1,400,000,000 that little Billy has. There is no reason on the face of this Earth that such a disparity should ever exist. A senior UAW employee at the Kentucky Ford plant makes $63,000 a year as the median, meaning it would still take them 22,222 years to get that $1,400,000,000.

So no, fuck the wealthy, the rest of it is not “off.”

Speedway Sammy
Speedway Sammy
8 months ago

The UAW faces a serious problem. Their “share” of the auto labor market continues to decline with little hope of reversing the trend. Having your past major domos in the slammer is not a great sales pitch for organizing transplants and start-ups.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
8 months ago
Reply to  Speedway Sammy

Too bad some other union couldn’t organize Tesla and the transplants instead.

Tesla and Rivian used to be UAW in their respective facilities’ past lives (NUMMI and DSM/Mitsubishi). In particular, half of Rivian’s Normal, IL staff worked there under UAW/Mitsubishi, yet they STILL couldn’t organize Rivian! THAT should tell you something.

VW almost wants a union, so they can do their works council like they do elsewhere, but it was still voted down even though VW was the least hostile to unions. And their old PA factory was UAW too!

The UAW gives unions a bad name, and even other unions don’t like them. Perhaps the workers could use IBEW or some other union instead. Plenty of unions don’t have the baggage the UAW has.

Wolfpack57
Wolfpack57
8 months ago
Reply to  Speedway Sammy

I haven’t seen you comment on anything around here except to oppose unions. You must like Ford, Inc. better than a FoST or a Mustang

Nlpnt
Nlpnt
8 months ago

Below, I see one of the classic arguments against unions’ asks is “you’re going to kill the goose that laid the golden eggs, slowly choking it with debt”…

That argument held more weight in the ’80s and ’90s, and had one last outing in the ’08-9 crisis. But what’s happened since the turn of the millennium to corporation after corporation, is that Private Equity has swooped in, choked the companies with debt from their own leveraged buyouts, and extracted all the wealth for itself. Better a company die after three generations leaving tens of thousands of middle-class homeowners with pensions who put their kids through college debt-free, than it die the same death for a space billionaire or two.

Granted, Ford is probably the least likely to have this happen with direct family involvement to the fourth generation, but GM and Stellantis are another matter.

DadBod
DadBod
8 months ago
Reply to  Nlpnt

Yeah, I’ll buy that argument as soon as the labor/executive pay scale is back to pre-Jack Welch ratios. Did I say fuck Jack Welch? FUCK JACK WELCH

Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
8 months ago
Reply to  DadBod

Hell yeah! Fuck Jack Welch! I hope he’s rotting in hell!

Anxious John
Anxious John
8 months ago

Yes, fuck Jack Welch and I hope he’s down there with Ronald Reagan.

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
8 months ago

I just love it when rich people proclaim “You poor people need to get back to work making me richer!”
It would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic.

SNL-LOL Jr
SNL-LOL Jr
8 months ago

Shawn Fain: “Eat the Rich.”
Bill Ford: “Eat Me.”

Ottomadiq
Ottomadiq
8 months ago

Generations of union members have said they worked at “Ford’s” meaning the Ford family’s company.

No that has more to do with Michigan dialect than anything else.
The Origin Of The Michigan Habit Of Adding An ‘S’ To Everything (wfgr.com)

Spartanjohn113
Spartanjohn113
8 months ago
Reply to  Ottomadiq

“Hey, I’m going to Meijer’s. Do you want anything?” – me literally to my girlfriend at least once a week.

https://www.urbanplanet.org/forums/topic/34699-meijer-or-meijers/

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
8 months ago
Reply to  Spartanjohn113

Yeah, can you get me some Better made BBQ chips and some Faygo Red Pop please? (-‿◦)

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
8 months ago
Reply to  Spartanjohn113

“me literally to my girlfriends” has a different ring to it.

Griznant
Griznant
8 months ago
Reply to  Spartanjohn113

I will defend to the death the fact that “Meijer’s” is correct. It’s Fred Meijer’s store. We’re going to Meijer’s (place). That makes sense logically and grammatically. To hell with people who don’t agree!

The Mark
The Mark
8 months ago
Reply to  Spartanjohn113

Kroger’s
Costco’s

Michael Beranek
Michael Beranek
8 months ago
Reply to  Ottomadiq

We do that in Chicago too. “Jewel’s” is a grocery store, and of course who could forget Richie Daley’s “Soldier’s Field”.

Mercedes Streeter
Mercedes Streeter
8 months ago

We do that in Chicago too. “Jewel’s” is a grocery store…

That sudden realization that I do this same thing. Ope!

Anchor
Anchor
8 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan Myers

If paying your workers a middle class wage and providing healthcare bankrupts your company then you deserve it.

https://yhoo.it/46MpFBW

They can choose to invest in the workers that build their product, or they can invest in increasing their share prices for wall street, the fact that they choose their rich friends isn’t a position you should be defending.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
8 months ago
Reply to  Anchor

Paying your workers well means you will be undercut by Chinese and other foreign labor. The US has to choose between giving auto workers relatively low wages or losing the industry entirely(that means zero wages for auto workers.)

Mike B
Mike B
8 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

So, what’s the end game on that? We have a society where the majority of full-time workers are in poverty? Workers are supposed to be grateful to have shit paying jobs that leave them homeless? This isn’t just the auto industry; this is EVERY industry.

Last edited 8 months ago by Mike B
R Rr
R Rr
8 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

wut??

By ‘foreign labor’ do you mean Europe’s almost entirely unionized car industry, or chinese carmakers who thrive on state subsidies and slave wages and have import tarriffs on their products because of that?

LactoseTheIntolerant
LactoseTheIntolerant
8 months ago
Reply to  R Rr

Also, Japan has auto unions for cars built in Japan.

It is when these manufacturers build cars in Tennessee, Alabama, and other “right to work” states that they escape unions.

Anchor
Anchor
7 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

This is just more race to the bottom nonsense. We’ve proven that these companies can make money and pay workers, and pay dividends. What you want is to simply pay the workers so little the US taxpayer has to subsidize the labor costs for successful corporations. Then you’ll complain about how no one wants to work anymore.

Rust Buckets
Rust Buckets
7 months ago
Reply to  Anchor

Of course it’s a race to the bottom. The Chinese are racing to the bottom. I can’t stop them from doing that.

Anchor
Anchor
7 months ago
Reply to  Rust Buckets

Well then the only thing we can do is become a third world country then. Hopefully you’ve volunteered to cut your pay by at least half. If you haven’t, why not?

The Dude
The Dude
8 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan Myers

This jumped out at me

But in a scenario that should sound eerily familiar to watchers of the decline of the U.S. auto industry, the management of Great Britain’s largest carmakers proved slow to adapt to changing markets and were handcuffed by their workers as well.

Sounds like the root of the problem was making poor product mistakes, much like what bit GM, Chrysler, and to some extent Ford in the 2008 recession. Of course, paying your workers livable wages certainly didn’t help when times were tight but as others have said, if you can’t afford to pay your workers then maybe you shouldn’t be in business…

A. Barth
A. Barth
8 months ago

Stellanis is only a two-year-old brand name

Fiat Chrysler, now called Stellanis

Stellantis, please.

Spyrius Robot
Spyrius Robot
8 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Stellanus

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
8 months ago
Reply to  Spyrius Robot

You can really haul a** in a Stellanus! 😉

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
8 months ago
Reply to  Shooting Brake

Unless it’s in the shop, which is, you know, constantly.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
8 months ago
Reply to  A. Barth

Nothing, please. Stellantis is a portfolio of the worst brands in the world. They just to add Daewoo.

Geoffrey Reuther
Geoffrey Reuther
8 months ago

Hey, my last Daewoo was ALMOST good! It was unfortunately saddled with a GM transmission.

Dogisbadob
Dogisbadob
8 months ago

Hey Micki! Another name coming from Jalopnik. Glad to see you again!

Maynard had written the morning shift for Jalopnik for a few weeks one time.

Perhaps the UAW should ask for a works council like they have in Germany. Labor makes up half the board. VW tried to do this in the US, but the NLRB ruled that such a setup requires a union. Ford has one, so they can do it with no problem.

Data
Data
8 months ago

What we’ve got here is… failure to communicate.

Droid
Droid
8 months ago
Reply to  Data

…some men, you just can’t reach.

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