United Auto Workers leaders huddled with Ford Motor Co. executives today after the union was caught off guard by President-elect Donald Trump’s tweet last night he helped prevent another Ford model from going to Mexico.
While the union is pleased Ford has now committed to continue building the Lincoln MKC small sport utility vehicle at a Kentucky factory, Trump’s tweets had suggested that the entire Louisville Assembly Plant’s output was under threat of moving to Mexico. The MKC is built on the same assembly line as the Ford Escape, which outsells the Lincoln version by 12-to-1. More than 5,000 employees are working nearly around the clock on three crews to meet demand for the two SUVs, said Todd Dunn, president of UAW Local 862 in Louisville.
So were Trump’s tweets that there would be “no Mexico” because he “worked hard with Bill Ford to keep the Lincoln plant in Kentucky” misleading?
“I’ll let each individual reach their own conclusions, but the true answer should be clear to anyone,” Dunn said in an interview. “What is important is the transparency between Ford Motor Co. and the UAW. We’re doing a good job and that wasn’t decided in an overnight tweet.”
Ford didn’t inform the union of its long-term plans for the MKC before those tweets went out Thursday night, Dunn said. That’s what UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles, who oversees Ford contract negotiations, and other union leaders were planning to discuss with the company today, he said. Ford didn’t respond to a request for comment on the talks.
Talks With Trump
After Trump’s tweets, the company acknowledged for the first time it had been considering moving production of the MKC to Mexico, allowing the plant to boost output of the Escape, one of its hottest models. After talks between Executive Chairman Bill Ford and the president-elect, the automaker decided to keep building the MKC in Louisville after the UAW’s current contract expires in 2019.
“We had planned to move the Lincoln MKC out of Louisville Assembly Plant,” Christin Baker, a Ford spokeswoman, said in an e-mail, noting the UAW contract signed last year allowed for such a move. "Cuautitlan plant in Mexico was likely the plant for MKC."
During his campaign, Trump was relentless in his criticism of Ford for planning to move all its North American small-car production to Mexico, where wages are 80 percent lower than in the U.S. Ford also builds the Lincoln MKZ sedan at a factory in Hermosillo, Mexico. During the campaign, Trump threatened to slap Ford’s Mexican-built cars with a 35 percent tariff. He also said he would terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement, which lets goods flow between Mexico, the U.S. and Canada without tariffs.
Ford, which has expressed a willingness to work with Trump since he was elected, has been in "constant contact" with his transition team, Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks told analysts Thursday. Ford’s change of heart on moving the MKC to Mexico followed those discussions.
“We are encouraged that President-elect Trump and the new Congress will pursue policies that will improve U.S. competitiveness and make it possible to keep production of this vehicle here in the U.S.,” the automaker said in an e-mailed statement after Trump’s tweets.
Bill Ford met with Trump during the campaign in an unsuccessful attempt to get the candidate to stop targeting the automaker, which says it has created nearly 28,000 jobs in the U.S. during the past five years. In his first answer of the first debate with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Trump attacked the automaker for plans to move production of the Focus small car and C-Max hybrid from a plant in Michigan to Mexico.
“We are everything that he should be celebrating about this country,” Bill Ford told reporters in September. “We pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps, we paid back our borrowings, we are healthy again, we’ve been adding jobs in the U.S. and we are the largest manufacturer of cars and trucks in the U.S.”