Home » Ford And GM Can Afford To Give Its Workers 40% Raises: Analyst

Ford And GM Can Afford To Give Its Workers 40% Raises: Analyst

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Hot Union Summer is upon us and the possibility of an auto worker strike during the Detroit Auto Show has created the perfect setting for a dramatic showdown. In one corner, you’ve got a United Auto Workers President elected by the slimmest of margins making huge promises. In the other corner, you’ve got the Big Three, who are trying to electrify while also facing down competitors who don’t have to pay union wages. In the middle? America’s most influential automotive analyst saying, essentially: It’ll all be fine, buy Ford and General Motors stock.

While we’re at it, we’ll get deeper into how Ford can win the contract negotiations. Plus, we’ll also look at Toyota’s huge summer amid a potential huge drag for the company.

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The Number That Blew My Mind

Ford Workers

It is not for me to referee or decide what happens with the UAW negotiations, but my unoriginal view is that both sides have more room to bend than they’re letting on publicly. My slightly more controversial view is that, with the exception of the 32-hour work week, automakers can probably give labor a lot of what they want (raises, the end of two-tier, some unionization for battery plants) and still survive. I have a bigger, wilder theory, but I’m going to save that for a little later. Stick around.

If you don’t know who Adam Jonas is, I don’t blame you. It’s not important for the average enthusiast. But, just so you do know, Adam Jonas is the analyst for Morgan Stanley in charge of automotive (and space!). He’s extremely well-respected, usually right, and mostly judges everything from the view of investors. Check this out:

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What Jonas is saying here, basically, is that even if Ford or GM did in fact give everything to the UAW that the UAW wanted it wouldn’t be that big of a deal (there’s precedent for this: UPS basically gave its union most of what it wanted this year). But let’s get into some more of the detail:

“Ford has disclosed it employs over 57,000 UAW represented workers earning all-in wages and benefits/bonuses equating to $64/hour or $112,000 per year per employee or a $6.4bn bill for total UAW ‘exposed’ compensation and benefits. We estimate Ford will generate global revenues of $168bn in FY23. Ford’s UAW labor ‘bill’ accounts for 3.8% of our Ford global revenue forecast. Let’s assume over the life of the next 4 year contract that Ford’s UAW total all-in hourly wages rise 40% to nearly $90/hour. This adds $2.6bn to the labor bill or a bit more than 150bps to cost headwind to Ford globally.”

To clarify: all-in means benefits/pensions/et cetera, so it’s not like workers are actually getting $90 per hour. This is a lot of money, as Jonas points out, but it’s not as big of a deal as it sounds, and it wouldn’t bankrupt the company, though it would cut hard into the company’s margin. Jonas goes on to note that there are plenty of ways to make up for the cost increases, including passing it onto consumers (which automakers are comfortable doing). I’m not sure that Ford wants to cut into R&D right now, given how much the company needs to do to be competitive, so it’s definitely a difficult balance.

It’s the kicker of the Jonas analysis that’s most important, though:

Bottom line, we’d be a buyer of F and GM right now and during the negotiations as we believe even a ‘difficult’ outcome can catalyze far bigger changes to strategy and capital discipline that will eventually yield significant and longer lasting benefits to shareholders that will exceed today’s labor headlines.

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Investors are gonna investor, which means that we can’t expect them to necessarily have completely predictable or logical reactions to a deal. Still, the fact that the main Morgan Stanley guy is saying that investors should see the negotiations as an opportunity to invest in Ford and GM is a big deal and a likely signal to executives to make a deal early rather than risk inventory drops just as sales are heating up.

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This leads me to what I think could happen. Many people are predicting a long, Writer-type strike action that cripples the Big Three. I think there’s a likely alternative. Keep reading.

How Ford Could Win The Union Negotiations

Ford Oakville Assembly

I think Ford and, in particular, CEO Jim Farley are trying to do the smart thing. The right thing. But the company is still saddled with quality issues and it’s desperately trying to catch up to competitors by investing in electrification. It’s hard for me to say what I’d do differently than Ford right now, other than resurrect the Cosworth Escort RS as a Ford Maverick and bring the Ford Puma ST to the United States, which are both terrible ideas.

Here’s one thing I would do: Settle early with the UAW and Unifor (Canada’s version of the UAW.)

If we take the above analysis from Jonas as a hint of how the markets should respond to a UAW deal then I don’t see what the upside is to drawing out a fight. The small amount that Ford could gain by pushing back against union demands could easily be wiped out by dwindling sales right at the time the company is launching a new F-150 and other important products. It probably can’t (and some argue probably shouldn’t) give UAW President Shawn Fain everything he’s demanding, but the end of two-tier wages, some clarification on how to deal with joint-venture battery plants, and the restoration of some of the pre-2008 contract benefits seems like something Ford might swallow.

Even better, Ford has the biggest UAW footprint and making a deal early means that GM and Stellantis will essentially be forced to accept what Ford bargained for first or fare even worse. It’s a weird Prisoner’s Dilemma situation. There’s precedent for this as well: Delta made a big deal with the pilot union and now every other airline is being pressured into accepting similar deals, which negates the competitive disadvantage. Of course, many of Ford’s competitors don’t have union labor, so it’s not a perfect analogy, but in general it could work.

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I think GM could probably swallow it if it had to, but I’m not sure Stellantis has positioned itself well here and may end up with a strike exactly when it doesn’t need one. This furthers Ford’s advantage as it could potentially have products for sale while one or more of its competitors suddenly run short of inventory. Plus, I think Ford coming out right before the Detroit Auto Show and saying “We’ve got a deal” would help it win the auto show and maybe give it a stock price bump. It’s a crazy idea and probably won’t happen, but it’s what I would do.

Oh, also, I should just randomly insert this little bit from The Detroit News about how Unifor has decided to start its negotiations with Ford:

“I’ve concluded that the best opportunity for our union’s 18,000 members in the auto sector to achieve our bargaining objective is with Ford Motor Co.,” Unifor President Lana Payne said during a news conference.

Payne noted that she had previously said Ford might make the most sense as the lead company. As the talks shift to focus on reaching an agreement with Ford ahead of the current contracts’ expiration at 11:59 p.m. Sept. 18, negotiations with GM and Stellantis will pause. The deal that Unifor reaches with Ford, once ratified, will set the pattern for agreements with the other two companies.

Crazier things have happened. Plus, I think Fain has puffed up his chest a lot and probably has more support than the automakers think among his workers, but there’s a huge risk that maybe he doesn’t.

Toyota’s Back, Baby

70 Series Toyota Land Cruiser Water Fording

Toyota reports its sales on a weird delay, so we’re just getting July numbers globally as August is about to end. How’s it going? Per Reuters:

Toyota Motor’s (7203.T) July global sales rose 8% from the same month a year earlier to a record 859,506 vehicles, the Japanese automaker said on Wednesday…

That’s awesome for Toyota. The automaker has been behind the times on full-battery EVs and has been one of the automakers hardest hit by global shortages. Wait, what was the rest of that sentence?

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a day after a system malfunction shut output at all of its domestic assembly plants.

Huh. That seems bad.

What Is Going On With Toyota’s Computer Network?

Toyota Plant

Yesterday, Toyota had to shut down 14 assembly plants because the e-kanban computer network it relies on to build cars just stopped working. This is a big deal. Most global automakers have borrowed from Toyota’s lean production model, but for the system to work the underlying communication network needs to work.

How bad is it? Again, from Reuters:

[Toyota’s] average global vehicle sale price in the most recent quarter was equivalent to $26,384, based on its financial reporting. Using that as a proxy would mean a full-day of production at the 14 plants would be equivalent to $356 million in revenue.

That’s not nothing. It’s quite possible that this is a weird fluke, it’ll get fixed, and it’s not a cyberattack that caused this. Toyota, though, needs to reveal what this was. What happened?

It’s yet another reminder of how fragile these just-in-time systems can be, especially in the more complex world we seem to live in at the moment. Whatever this is caused as much as $350 million worth of problems in a single day.

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The Big Question

Guys, it’s time for some Game Theory. You’re the CEO of one of the Big Three automakers. You’ve got the auto show coming up, a strike on the horizon, problems with EV chargers, feds getting up in your business about driverless cars, Elon Musk, China, et cetera to deal with.

How do you approach the strike? Teach your execs to weld and say to hell with the workers? Let your competitors figure it out and focus on building cars? Make a deal? Let’s hear your thoughts.

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Jacob Michael Ehrhart
Jacob Michael Ehrhart
9 months ago

All these articles are the exact same and fall into the exact same trap if you seriously believe that the UAW won’t agree to a contract that doesn’t meet every single one of it’s demands you completely fail to understand how bargaining works please use your brain for once the president Shawn Fain is demanding a massive amount that it’s pretty clear they won’t get but what he’s doing is he’s “demanding” a lot so the ball is now in the companies courts so they have to negotiate him down to a contract that is more suitable it’s already worked with ford while Shawn did trash the contract that Ford presented the first Contract ford presented was by far the best contract the workers of ford have gotten in over 2 decades and we are still 2 weeks from the deadline

Stop Making Us Register To Comment
Stop Making Us Register To Comment
9 months ago

That headline is a complete lie…sure if they keep continuing to make these unprofitable EVs, but selling gas and hybrid cars they more than can afford it.

Scorp Mcgorp
Scorp Mcgorp
9 months ago

i wonder if there might be room for Ford to negotiate some performance criteria/benchmarks for worker compensation and benefits. they’re struggling with quality issues, so tell the UAW we’ll meet you close to what you want in all areas, but over a set period of time and only if your workers meet certain quality levels for function/fit/finish, etc. if the union is dedicated to making quality product that should be a deal they’re willing to make, and both sides will have a path forward to work together.

MrAcoustics
MrAcoustics
9 months ago

I think you could get a successful ratification vote for the big three by ending the 2 tier system, giving a smaller 20% raise over the contract, and the typical signing bonus, change nothing else of the current benefits.

The profit sharing formula for UAW workers is already excellent, they have current employee no cost health insurance that covers everything (it is amazing insurance) and doesn’t cost any extra to put your whole family on, the company automatically puts money in a 401k for you even if you don’t contribute, and they have tuition reimbursement if you want to further your education or change your career. These are just some of the standouts among other benefits you receive.

Sivad Nayrb
Sivad Nayrb
9 months ago

Or…. Say to the Union… F#ck Off.

The UAW has outlived it’s purpose.

M K
M K
9 months ago

At 11:59 p.m. on Sept. 18, lay EVERYONE off. Not sure what to do after that, but probably will result in a spike in stock prices and that’s what’s really important.

Myk El
Myk El
9 months ago

If I’m running one of the big three, I’m doing my best Wayne Brady (or Monty Hall for you olds) and saying “let’s make a deal.” It’s unlikely you’re going to be in a strong negotiating position if the other companies get their deals done before you. It’s unlikely if you are first you end up giving up way more than the other companies have to.

JDE
JDE
9 months ago

the big question I have is if the top dog went from 400 million a year in salaries and bonusses, to say 100 Million, would the 57,000 other employees accept a 7K raise? that much means very little to some, to the rank and file with inflation at 8 Percent last year and almost 5 percent this year, I would say it almost gets most of them to a basic cost of living wage increase. it really only helps the short timers on the line that got screwed by old guys and the contracts that gave them more money and made it so newb’s can never get to the same wage, and of course janitors and lot drivers.

WhoDey Buckeye
WhoDey Buckeye
9 months ago

I’d be interested to see how many UAW workers actually want the 4 day work week once they really look at the pay loss from that extra day off.
For example if a worker makes $50/hr for 40 hours per week that adds up to $2000/week.
With a 40% raise that would bring them to $70/hr or $2800/week.
However, a 4 day (32 hr) work week means at $70/hr they make $2240/week. That means they only see a 12% increase in actual pay.
Something tells me a lot of UAW workers would rather see just the pay raise to $70/hr and keep working 40 hours and make $2800/week instead of making $2240 for 32 hours. I bet some would settle for a 25% raise to $62.50/hr and bring home $2500/week instead of the 40% raise and 32 hour week for $2240 total.

JDE
JDE
9 months ago
Reply to  WhoDey Buckeye

They don’t need the money, they just want to work less and get paid more for it.

Nathan
Nathan
9 months ago
Reply to  WhoDey Buckeye

There are already plenty of UAW workers that work extra shifts to make overtime. Why would that stop? If anything the overtime pay bump will be for anything over 32 hours.

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