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Ford Workers Embracing New Union Contract as Deadline Nears

The speed of the deal's acceptance is in contrast to negotiations with GM, which resulted in a record strike

Ford Motor Co.’s new proposed pact with the United Auto Workers union is cruising toward ratification with nearly two-thirds of workers voting in favor of it so far, even winning over factories that face uncertain futures.

Workers at Ford’s Mustang plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, approved the contract, even though the factory is losing a new electric vehicle as part of the deal, according to a running tally kept informally by the union. Also giving it the green-light: A transmission facility north of Detroit which is taking on hundreds of displaced workers from an engine factory that is closing.

With about half the vote counted, 63% of Ford workers have accepted a deal that includes $6 billion in product investments in U.S. facilities, a $9,000 signing bonus and raises that take hourly wages to $32.32 by 2023. Four years ago, Ford had the lowest contract approval ratio of the Detroit Three, with support of less than 52% of its workers, and it took an 11th-hour push to avoid rejection.

Ford’s seemingly smooth ratification this time comes after a 40-day strike by the UAW that targeted General Motors Co. and was marked by heated rhetoric on both sides. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV will be up next for negotiations with the union as long as the Ford deal goes through.

“The relationship between Ford and the UAW is clearly on more solid ground,” said Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for researcher LMC Automotive. “This is a company that has been restructuring and we are going to be in a recession at some point, so it’s a tough environment. But this shows that it’s not something that can’t be weathered.”

Voting among Ford’s 55,000 U.S. hourly workers wraps up on Nov. 15. Two of its biggest factories -- the Rouge complex in Michigan and an F-Series truck plant in Louisville -- have yet to vote. The contract could still go down if workers at those plants reject it.

In 2015, Ford’s Kentucky truck factory turned down the contract. But four years later, only one plant has rejected the deal so far-- a Chicago facility responsible for a botched launch of the redesigned Explorer sport-utility vehicle.

After the rejection in Chicago, Ford and the UAW went back to the bargaining table and tweaked their deal to correct a glitch, according to people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified revealing internal details. The snag involved wording that left some newer workers with lower pay increases because of the time of year they hired in, these people said.

Since the proposed contract was amended to fix that problem, 17 other facilities have approved it.

“Ford seems to know what they’re doing with their people,” said Arthur Wheaton, director of the Worker Institute at Cornell University. “There wasn’t this bitter fight like you had at GM.”

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