The UAW Has a Tentative Agreement at Ford

Forty-one days into its strike against the Big Three automakers, the UAW has reached a tentative agreement with Ford. Union leaders are calling it a major victory, but workers will have the final say about whether to accept the deal.

United Auto Workers members and supporters on a picket line outside Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant in Illinois on September 30, 2023. (Taylor Glascock / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Six weeks after the United Auto Workers (UAW) launched a historic strike at the Big Three automakers, the union has a tentative agreement (TA) with Ford, which employs fifty-seven thousand of its members. The UAW announced the agreement last night following two days of intensive negotiations at the company’s Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters.

“For months, we’ve said that record profits means record contracts,” said UAW president Shawn Fain in a video announcing the agreement. “And UAW family, our stand-up strike has delivered. What started at three plants at midnight on September 15 has become a national movement.”

“Thanks to the power of our members on the picket line and the threat of more strikes to come, we have won the most lucrative agreement per member since Walter Reuther was president,” added UAW vice president Chuck Browning.

UAW members at Ford will return to work as the union’s National Ford Council convenes in Detroit to review the TA. On October 29, that body will vote on whether to send the agreement to the membership; if they do so, the union will hold a Facebook live presentation that evening to walk members through the details of the contract. Local leaders will meet regionally to discuss the agreement and hold local sessions to talk it through with members. Then, members will vote on whether to ratify the contract.

Browning described the decision to send Ford members back to work as a “strategic move.”

“We’re going back to work at Ford to keep the pressure on Stellantis and GM,” said Browning. “The last thing they want is for Ford to get back to full capacity while they mess around and lag behind.”

No deal has yet been reached at either General Motors (GM) or Stellantis. The union escalated the stand-up strike at those companies this week, with eighty-seven hundred workers at Stellantis’s Sterling Heights Assembly Plant in Sterling Heights, Michigan, walking off the job on Monday, followed by five thousand workers at GM’s Arlington Plant in Texas on Tuesday.

The UAW had struck Ford’s highly profitable Kentucky Truck Plant on October 11, and many expected the union’s next target to be the company’s sprawling River Rouge assembly complex in Michigan, the site of defining battles in UAW history. Instead, negotiations proved intensive over the past two days, as the union pushed the company to increase its proposed 23 percent raise over the life of the contract to 25 percent.

Yesterday, Ford agreed to do so. Factoring in cost-of-living increases, the union said it amounts to more than a 30 percent raise for workers earning the top rate, which will increase to above $40 an hour, and 68 percent for those earning the lowest, which rises to over $28 an hour. The union had initially demanded 40 percent raises, a number calculated to match the raises Big Three executives have received over the past four years. For perspective, the combined wage increases for UAW members at Ford from 2001–2022 only amount to a 23 percent raise.

The full details of the deal have not yet been released, but according to the UAW, it includes an immediate 11 percent raise and that temporary workers will see a raise of more than 150 percent over the life of the contract, with some workers at Ford’s Sterling Axle and Rawsonville shops receiving an immediate 85 percent increase upon ratification.

In addition to wage increases, the union said the TA wins back concessions given up in the wake of the Great Recession, reinstating cost-of-living-allowances (COLA) and returning to a three-year wage progression (down from the current seven years), chipping away at the pernicious tiers in which some workers receive lower pay than others while doing identical work. The UAW said the deal also includes an unprecedented right to strike over plant closures. The total gains amount to more than four times those won in the 2019 contract.

“We told Ford to pony up, and they did,” said Fain. “We won things nobody thought was possible. Since the strike began, Ford has put 50 percent more on the table than when we’d walked out.”

As for what’s missing from the details released thus far, most noticeable is any mention of Ford’s electric vehicle (EV) battery plants, throwing cold water on hopes that GM’s purported agreement to fold its EV plants into the UAW’s master contract would be replicated elsewhere. Notably, Ford had paused construction on its $3.5 billion EV plant in Michigan ten days into the strike, a move Fain called a “shameful, barely veiled threat by Ford to cut jobs.”

Ford led the Big Three through much of the six-week strike, agreeing to several proposals before its counterparts at GM and Stellantis did so, and this TA may set the pattern, becoming a model at the other automakers. At the very least, the UAW now has one less foe, allowing it focus on increasing the pressure at the remaining two bargaining tables.