Workers at a Ford Motor Co. plant in Chicago overwhelmingly rejected a proposed four-year labour contract, the second No vote at a Ford plant this week, throwing into doubt the prospects for ratification.
Workers at the Chicago Assembly Plant voted 77 per cent to reject the pact, which would cover 41,000 Ford production workers represented by the United Auto Workers union, said Scott Houldieson, secretary-treasurer of UAW Local 551, which represents workers at the plant.
Mr. Houldieson said he had heard from workers that they did not like the lack of a cost-of-living allowance in the contract and the continuation of a two-tier pay scale.
U.S. Ford workers are voting through next Tuesday on the proposed deal, which the company has said would improve its competitiveness in the United States as well as offer a fair deal for workers.
The UAW negotiating team and Ford reached an agreement on the tentative contract last week.
Workers at the Chicago plant, where 2,317 voted, make up more than 6 per cent of the No. 2 U.S. auto maker's UAW-represented workers.
Also on Thursday, UAW Local 228, which represents about 2,000 workers at the Sterling Heights Axle Plant near Detroit, voted 64 per cent to approve the contract, according to the local's website.
Earlier this week, UAW Local 900, where 2,582 workers voted from three plants, including the Michigan Assembly operation in Wayne, voted 51 per cent to reject the proposed contract. The UAW said on Thursday it had not yet released an overall vote count.
However, a Ford worker totalling individual local votes showed that about 6,500 workers, or 16 per cent of all of Ford's UAW workers, had voted 57 per cent to reject the proposed deal, according to a Facebook posting.
Mr. Houldieson said he could not predict the outcome of the overall vote, but the margin in Chicago made him believe that the "no" votes were now ahead in the current count.
"Michigan Assembly voted No by a slim margin," he said. "If they get other plants to vote Yes by small margins, then our vote definitely will tip the scales."
General Motors Co. workers in late September ratified their new four-year contract, which is slightly less generous than the proposed Ford pact.
On Wednesday, Chrysler Group LLC and the UAW reached a tentative deal that is less generous than GM's contract. UAW officials said that Chrysler's 26,000 UAW-represented workers will hold ratification votes over the next two weeks.
The proposed Ford contract would raise the pay of newer workers who make "second-tier" wages of just over half that of veteran production workers, to $19.28 an hour over several years.
That would still leave the second-tier workers at 70 per cent of the $28.12-per-hour pay of veteran workers, which was not enough for many voters, Mr. Houldieson said.
Five labour experts interviewed on Thursday said they were surprised by the wide margin at the Chicago plant, but each still expected the contract to be ratified by a narrow margin.
"The Chicago vote is a troubling, though hardly fatal sign," said Harley Shaiken of the University of California-Berkeley.
"In the 2007 Chrysler ratification vote, some early plants voted No but the later plants voted strongly Yes when, in part, they understood their vote could prove decisive. We won't know the result until the last vote is counted."
Tom Saybolt, a former Ford attorney who now teaches at the University of Detroit-Mercy law school, said the Chicago vote may actually help the UAW in its push to ratify the contract.
"Ford historically has had plants that will vote No," Mr. Saybolt said. "In some ways it can be helpful in the sense that the union can make its case that they got the best deal and that this is not a cave-in to the company, and that it was more generous than what GM [workers]got and a lot better than what Chrysler got."
The tentative Ford contract calls for profit-sharing and signing bonuses rather than wage increases for veteran workers, who have not received a wage hike since 2003.
Mr. Houldieson said that, to his knowledge, Local 551 has not rejected a general contract before, but has rejected modifications to contracts, as it did in 2009 when Ford's national workers refused to give up the right to strike.
GM and Chrysler lost the right to strike in each of their 2009 bankruptcy restructurings.
JOBS TO MEXICO?
UAW president Bob King has focused on job creation at the three major U.S. auto makers.
If all contracts are ratified, he has said, there would be another 20,000 new jobs for auto workers, including jobs transferred from Mexico to U.S. plants.
Mr. Saybolt said a rejection of the Ford contract would put in danger the 12,000 jobs that Ford has promised to create or maintain.
"Ford has made job commitments, but if you push these guys too hard, Mexico is going to start looking more and more attractive," he said.
Mr. King said on Wednesday that he expected ratification of the contract at both Ford and Chrysler.
He said the union pushed for the best deal under difficult economic circumstances and that if the UAW was successful in organizing U.S. plants of Japanese, South Korean and German auto makers, it would have more power to fight for higher pay and benefits.