Ford CEO ‘very optimistic’ about reaching agreement with auto workers’ union as strike looms

ABC News

(NEW YORK) — About 146,000 auto workers are prepared to strike this week if their demands are not met by their employers – Big Three automakers General Motors, Ford and Stellantis.

Members of the United Auto Workers union are threatening to walk off their jobs in multiple states if the auto companies do not meet their demands over higher wages and benefits. The deadline the union has set for an agreement with the automakers is midnight Eastern time on Thursday.

At least one meeting is planned between the union and automakers for Wednesday, Shawn Fain, president of the union, said on “Good Morning America.”

“Can we get there? Yes, we can, but they need to buckle down and get busy. We’ve got 48 hours. That’s not a lot of time,” Fain said.

If the strike shuts down production, it could cause a spike in vehicle prices and a shortage of American-made cars in as soon as two months.

Ford CEO Jim Farley told ABC News Live on Tuesday night that such a strike would be “devastating” for the U.S. auto industry. He spoke about details of the latest offer to the union he says includes large pay increases for employees.

LINSEY DAVIS: Thank you so much, Mr. Farley, for joining us. We’ll get to the talks in a moment. But first, Ford will be unveiling the 2024 Ford F-150 tonight ahead of the Detroit Auto Show. Tell us a bit about that and what it means for your company.

JIM FARLEY: Well, the F-150 is the most popular vehicle in America for 41 years, and the most popular truck for 46 years. On revenue alone, it’s larger than the entire size of Starbucks or Netflix. So it’s a huge business for not just Ford, but our economy. I think we’re going to end the tailgate wars with the very creative solution. Our hybrid F-150 can power a house for seven days and get better fuel economy, too. So we have a lot of new technology.

DAVIS: Sounds impressive and very exciting, but I would have to imagine that a lot of your attention at this particular moment is on this potential strike. Just break down for us where things stand at this hour on the negotiations between the UAW and Ford. Are you any closer to reaching a deal?

FARLEY: We’re really in the heart of the negotiations now. We’re less than about 48 hours until our contract expires, just about two days [as of Tuesday night]. This is really negotiations for the future of automotive manufacturing in the US.

We are putting forth an offer today that’s the most lucrative offer in 80 years working with the UAW. Large pay increases, top 1% health care. We have profit sharing. We’re going to be adding inflation protection. We’re going to be getting rid of all the tiered labor.

Our team gets five weeks of vacation. They get another 17 days off. A lot in the offer. But this will be the most lucrative offer and will require a lot of belt tightening at the company. And there’s a limit how far we can go, because we have to keep investing for the transition of the industry.

We’re very optimistic that we can reach an agreement with the UAW in the next two days, and it’s very important for the country.

DAVIS: You mentioned that 48-hour deadline. Bottom line, how confident are you that you can avoid a strike between the UAW and Ford before the end of the week?

FARLEY: Well, rhetoric aside, it’s time for us to come together. We’ve put in our first offer a couple of weeks ago, and we still haven’t found the right deal for both sides. But we’re still confident that we can reach a deal, because it is so important for the U.S. economy and for our country and for, of course, those 57,000 workers.

We’re the most committed, the UAW. So it’s critical that we find a deal. But there is a limit, as I said. We’re not going to mortgage our future.

DAVIS: And what about the union demand on reinstatement of pensions for new workers or their calls for a four-day, 32-hour workweek? Or either of those still on the table?

FARLEY: I think they are from the UAW standpoint, but we can’t have a sustainable industry working four days a week. Look, we’ve been very profitable as a company. We’re returning from profitability. We didn’t go bankrupt.

Many of our competitors did. And now we built this very competitive, profitable company. We have more work to do on that, by the way, on cost and quality, and we want everyone to benefit from that.

But we also have to invest in this huge transition to electric, partial electric future, $50 billion in Ford’s case. And we need the profitability to invest.

DAVIS: According to SEC filings, you receive nearly $21 million in total compensation in 2022. In comparison, the median total compensation for Ford employees was about $75,000. That’s a 281 to 1 ratio. Do you think that that gap should change?

FARLEY: Well, I think, first of all, my job is to add value to the company and to make sure all of our workforce is handsomely awarded, that we all benefit in growth.

And yes, that’s, you know, at all levels of the company, you know, we have to be competitive. But my goal is just totally focused on making sure we have a vibrant future for everyone, especially our factory workers. My grandfather was an hourly worker for Ford, and we want to make sure everyone has a future. But we have to be competitive.

DAVIS: Talk about the potential cost to your company and to the American consumers if a strike does go forward. What kind of impact could that have?

FARLEY: It would be devastating. Our supply base still hasn’t recovered from COVID. We have a lot of vulnerable suppliers still. We have so many communities that depend on Ford in Michigan and Ohio and all over the upper Midwest. So this is, has a huge impact.

You know, any kind of significant outage would. Ford has not been on strike since the mid-70s. We’ve always worked through this, and that’s why we committed to the UAW. The impacts of a strike, especially a long ongoing strike, multi-week, multi-month strike would be devastating for the U.S. economy.

DAVIS: Ford President and CEO Jim Farley, we thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate you coming on the show tonight.

FARLEY: Thank you, Linsey.

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