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UAW Rank-and-File Members at Ford Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville Vote Against Contract Despite Ratification

Despite more than two-thirds of membership voting last month to ratify a new contract at Ford; rank-and-file members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) at the 8,700-strong Ford Truck Plant in Louisville, KY (KTP) voted to reject the new contract, citing multiple issues, including insufficient pay increases, working conditions at the plant, and retirement health care. The highly profitable plant builds Ford’s F-Series Super Duty, the Ford Expedition and the Lincoln Navigator. Around 4,100 of the 8,700 employees voted, and of these, 54.5% voted NO on the contract. UAW had initiated a strike on September 15th, affecting plants of Ford, GM, and Stellantis, which culminated in this tentative agreement with Ford on October 25th, which many plants have accepted.

The supposedly “union-friendly” Biden administration, as well as UAW president Shawn Fain, are hailing the contract as a historic victory, and to a casual observer, the contract does seem to provide many large wins, including: 11% immediate raise, 25% over 4 years (workers initially asked for 40%), reinstated cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), elimination of a “two-tier” wage system, decreasing time to top pay from 8 years to 3 years, increased funding of the pension plan, and the right to strike over plant closures. This last one will be critical as plants continue to threaten to move overseas. Also, there is a fear some plants will be closed, moved to less union-friendly states, or otherwise re-shuffled in the push to create Electric Vehicles.

Part of the problem, according to workers at the Louisville plant and others who have rejected similar contracts, is that during the financial crisis of 2007, workers made many concessions and so, are still doing significantly worse than they were before 2007. Specifically, workers hired after 2007 were denied pensions and retiree health benefits. These contracts failed to adequately address this issue. In fact, when adjusted for inflation, it will take 3 more years for the top wage to reach where it was in the early 2000s. Some workers point out that in the 1960s, it was possible to raise a family on one parent’s income from the auto factory, and those days are largely gone. By rejecting this contract, Ford workers in Louisville are saying they are tired of being forced to pay for the crisis caused by the bankers and big business.

Many have positively compared new UAW president Shawn Fain to post-war president Walter Reuther due to his more militant rhetoric. Workers in Louisville, however, have been more critical possibly signaling he’s more similar to the Reuther who helped change the Congress of Industrial Organizations (C.I.O.) away from a militant class-oriented trade unionism to the business unionism that led to its merger into the AFL-CIO than the one who led the UAW during its strongest period. Workers rejecting a similar contract at Stellantis in Michigan complain that Fain “dropped their demands” for company paid pensions and retiree health benefits. KTP workers say that Fain sent them back to work before the vote was even held showing a lack of seriousness on his part to hold Ford bosses’ feet to the fire. KTP workers also point out that managers inside the factory have been speeding up processes and employees are threatened with write-ups for interruptions. There have also reportedly been issues with inaccurate checks and difficulties getting overtime pay.

Although the Ford contract passed with 69.3% ratifying, in Louisville, these workers have shown that they are fed up with years of being over-worked and underpaid, and they are willing to carry on the proud tradition of past generations of labor activists to put themselves on the line and demand what they are owed. The “Stand Up” Strike of September and October resulted in the current contract which definitely has some wins. According to workers at KTP however there is still has a ways to go to bringing current workers to the standards that those past generations were at. The Kentucky Truck Plant is one of the country’s most profitable plants (they were called to strike on October 11th) and the strikes cost the auto industry billions of dollars. These workers know what they are worth, that these billions of dollars of earnings are not possible without their labor. We at Labor Today support these workers in their continued struggle.

Photo Credit: Chris Otts, WDRB

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