Engineers at Ford seek to join union
140 at Allen Park vehicle operations center petition board; vote may be within 2 weeks
By Eric Mayne / The Detroit News
ALLEN PARK — Frustrated by increased workloads and lower pay, a group of 140 salaried engineers at Ford Motor Co. has petitioned the National Labor Relations Board to join the United Auto Workers union.
The organizing drive at Ford comes after 31 engineers at Visteon Corp.’s plastics plant in Milan voted 18 to 13 Friday against joining the UAW.
The NLRB has scheduled a hearing Monday to determine whether ballots by Ford employees should be cast at a polling station or mailed. The workers at Ford’s Allen Park vehicle operations center could vote within two weeks.
The union campaigns at Ford and Visteon were sparked by the elimination of overtime pay, although Visteon has restored overtime benefits at its Milan plant, one reason why the organizing drive may have failed.
“Times are very uncertain for salaried employees,” said Sean McAlinden, a labor economist with the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor. “By law, their medical plan can be cut at any time without intervention.”
General Motors Corp., Ford and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group have trimmed thousands of white-collar jobs in recent years to counter lower sales and slumping profits. They are also restructuring to increase productivity.
To cut its operating costs, Ford has eliminated overtime pay — but not overtime work — for certain groups of salaried workers. At its Allen Park engineering site, the move led some employees to quit.
Remaining workers grew frustrated when they were required to perform the same volume of work with fewer staff members. The Ford engineers who have filed for UAW representation build body shops for Ford’s assembly plants.
In the last year, five Ford assembly plants have been retooled to enable production of a wide variety of products — a feature that requires body shop changes.
Ford spokeswoman Lydia Cisaruk declined to comment on complaints that Allen Park engineers are overworked. She confirmed that overtime for some salaried personnel was eliminated last September.
Just under 650 salaried workers at Ford are now represented by the UAW, Cisaruk said.
The UAW represents about 100,000 white-collar workers — or one-sixth of its total membership.
Among Detroit automakers, DaimlerChrysler’s Chrysler Group has the largest contingent with more than 5,000 salaried UAW members while General Motors employs about 240.
Overall, UAW membership has been sliding for years. It’s ranks have fallen below 625,000 from 1.5 million in 1980.