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Ford chair warns extended strike will boost Tesla, Toyota and China

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The executive chair of Ford company called for an end to a strike by US car workers as it enters its second month, saying that drawn-out walkouts will help Tesla, Toyota and Chinese carmakers and “devastate” local communities across the US.

Bill Ford spoke on Monday as members of the United Auto Workers union continued to strike at plants owned by his company, and by General Motors and Stellantis. Last week UAW members began picketing Ford’s most profitable factory, a truck plant in Kentucky.

“This is about the future of the American automobile industry,” Ford said in a livestreamed speech on Monday, in a rare public intervention in the labour dispute. Non-unionised carmakers “Toyota, Honda, Tesla and the others are loving this strike because they know the longer it goes on the better it is for them. They will win, and all of us will lose.”

The Ford chair, who is the great-grandson of company founder Henry Ford, warned that a country losing its car industry could presage the loss of its entire industrial base, even constituting a threat to national security.

A longer strike “will have a major impact on the American economy and devastate local communities”, he said, adding that the “supply base is very fragile and will start collapsing with expanded strikes”. 

Bill Ford
Bill Ford: ‘[This] should be Ford and the UAW vs Toyota and Honda, Tesla and all the Chinese companies that want to enter our home market’ © Emily Elconin/Bloomberg

“We need to come together to bring an end to this acrimonious round of talks.”

UAW president Shawn Fain responded that “Bill Ford knows exactly how to settle this strike”.

“He should call up [Ford chief executive] Jim Farley, tell him to stop playing games and get a deal done, or we’ll close the Rouge for him,” Fain said, referring to the industrial complex where the chair delivered his remarks.

The UAW began to picket selected Ford, GM and Stellantis locations on September 15 as they seek better pay and working conditions.

Union leaders have attempted to increase pressure on carmakers during the talks by progressively targeting new factories, disrupting operations while conserving the fund set up to pay workers on the picket lines. The Kentucky Truck factory brings in $25bn in annual revenue and is Ford’s most profitable globally.  

UAW president Shawn Fain
UAW president Shawn Fain: ‘It’s not the UAW and Ford against foreign automakers. It’s autoworkers everywhere against corporate greed’ © Getty Images

Ford is investing billions of dollars to supply a growing line-up of electric vehicles. The company has baulked at agreeing to include three planned EV battery plants under its main contract with the UAW. The plants are a joint venture with Korean battery manufacturer SK Innovation. Farley has said the union was holding a deal “hostage” because of the plants, which are pivotal for the future of car manufacturing.

After months of opposition, GM reversed its position earlier this month and agreed that its battery joint ventures would fall under the so-called UAW master agreement, according to the union.

Kumar Galhotra, president of Ford Blue, the internal-combustion vehicle business, said last week that there were “multiple differences” between Ford and GM, including their different partner companies, preventing it from agreeing to similar terms as GM.

Over the weekend, Ford said it had furloughed an additional 550 workers across six parts plants, as a consequence of the strike. It has sent home just under 2,500 since the strike began last month, last week blaming “knock-on effects for facilities that are not directly targeted for a work stoppage”.

“This should not be Ford versus the UAW,” Bill Ford said. “It should be Ford and the UAW vs Toyota and Honda, Tesla and all the Chinese companies that want to enter our home market.”

Fain said: “It’s not the UAW and Ford against foreign automakers. It’s autoworkers everywhere against corporate greed . . . Workers at Tesla, Toyota, Honda and others are not the enemy — they are the UAW members of the future.”

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