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Old 08-21-2003, 06:23   #1 (permalink)
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U.S.A.:Ford warns union of job cuts

Automaker reaffirms closing 2 U.S. plants and cutting 12,000 workers by mid-decade.

By Mark Truby and Mike Hudson / The Detroit News

DEARBORN -- Ford Motor Co. this week presented an initial proposal to the United Auto Workers for a new labor pact covering wages and benefits for 95,000 workers at Ford and Visteon.

The automaker on Tuesday presented the 14-page package of proposals to UAW leaders at the main bargaining table at Ford's headquarters in Dearborn, according to people familiar with the negotiations.

Ford did not list specific demands, but outlined its business conditions, competitive issues and general objectives, according to UAW officials who read the proposal.

The proposal made it clear, though, that Ford is determined to carry out its turnaround plan outlined in 2002 and designed to restore profits and boost sales. Ford's "revitalization plan" calls for the closure of U.S. assembly plants in St. Louis and Edison, N.J., and two smaller U.S. parts plants by mid-decade, along with the elimination of 12,000 hourly positions in North American.

Specific bargaining issues such as wages, health care coverage, pension, job security and plant closings will be hammered out in more than a dozen subcommittees.

Ford is likely being cautious about what it puts on paper at such an early stage of the contract talks, said Trevor Bain, a labor expert and management professor at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.

"Ford has been losing market share as well as cash," Bain said. "That may cause Ford to want to say some things in the different bargaining subcommittees that they don't want out for public consumption."

Ford spokeswoman Anne Maria Gattari declined comment.

On Wednesday, UAW Vice President Gerald Bantom didn't address Ford's proposals but said the talks are on track. "Things are going slow, but that can be a good thing," Bantom said at the dedication of the Michigan Labor Legacy monument in downtown Detroit.

In a related matter, Bantom said he opposes Ford's latest plan to build new mid-size sedans and sport wagons in Canada and Mexico, rather than a U.S. site.

"We were informed about that decision ... we weren't happy about it," Bantom said, adding there "are many issues were discussing at the talks."

Ford plans to build a new family of mid-size models in Hermosillo, Mexico, and two sport wagons in Oakville, Ontario. The union had expected one of the two new model lines to be built at a new plant near Atlanta that has now been scrapped.

DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler Group, meanwhile, doesn't plan to present a formal, written proposal, but made a presentation on July 28 outlining a desire to become more competitive to match industry benchmarks on productivity and staffing.

At the meeting attended by bargaining leadership of both sides, Chrysler Vice President John Franciosi made a presentation of Chrysler's bargaining priorities that included improving quality, labor costs and productivity. Chrysler wants to close "the competitive gap issues with benchmark companies," notably foreign automakers with U.S. assembly plants, such as Toyota and Honda, spokesman Dan Bodene said.

General Motors Corp. has not submitted a formal proposal to the UAW, company and union official say.

Ford and Chrysler, in not laying out specific demands, may be maneuvering to become the UAW's first bargaining target, analysts say. With GM as the current favorite because of its comparatively strong financial position, the other two companies are trying to woo the union to pick them as the lead company, labor experts say.

Each of the automakers wants to be the lead company to negotiate a deal best tailored to their needs. The remaining automakers are often forced to match the "pattern," or face a strike.

The companies and the UAW will be work through the next couple weeks against a Sept. 14 deadline. The union often picks a lead company around or after Labor Day.
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