The executive chairman of Ford Motor Company broke his silence on the monthlong auto workers strike on Monday and said the work stoppage could “devastate local communities” if it continues.
Bill Ford, the great-grandson of Henry Ford and the company’s chairman since 1999, also criticized the United Auto Workers union for recently shutting down the company’s Kentucky Truck Plant, where it produces highly profitable large pickups and SUVs. Workers walked out of the Louisville facility, which employs 8,700, in a surprise strike last Wednesday.
“Shutting down that plant harms tens of thousands of Americans right away — workers, suppliers and dealers alike,” Ford said in his speech at the Rouge, the company’s historic manufacturing facility in Dearborn, Michigan. “It hurts the communities that depend on these local economies.”
Ford said the “acrimonious” bargaining would only benefit the company’s lower-paying, nonunion rivals in the auto industry.
“It should be Ford and the UAW versus Toyota and Honda, Tesla, and all the Chinese companies that want to enter our home market,” he said. He called his company “the strongest partner the UAW has ever known.”
The comments drew a sharp rebuke from UAW President Shawn Fain, who said in a statement Monday that the chairman “knows exactly how to settle this strike.”
“He should call up [Ford CEO] Jim Farley, tell him to stop playing games and get a deal done, or we’ll close the Rouge for him,” Fain said, threatening to strike another truck plant. “It’s not the UAW and Ford against foreign automakers. It’s autoworkers everywhere against corporate greed.”
He added that “workers at Tesla, Toyota, Honda and others are not the enemy — they’re the UAW members of the future.”
The UAW has been on strike against Ford, General Motors and Jeep parent company Stellantis since Sept. 15 after failing to reach new four-year agreements with the companies. It is the first time the union has waged a concurrent work stoppage against all of the “Big Three” U.S. automakers.
Workers have walked out at only select facilities, using an unpredictable playbook that’s left the companies guessing where the next strike might be.
The union contracts for the three automakers cover roughly 150,000 workers; so far around 34,000 workers have gone on strike at six vehicle assembly plants and dozens of parts distribution facilities. But because the auto supply chains are interconnected, the targeted strikes have led to the additional layoffs of thousands of workers at other facilities.
The union’s decision to hit Ford’s Kentucky plant last week marked a significant escalation in the standoff, since the Super Duty trucks made there are among its most profitable vehicles. And unlike the previous walkouts, the one in Kentucky came without any warning from the union.
Fain said the union leadership called for the strike after Ford failed to improve its most recent economic counter proposal in a bargaining meeting.
“You just cost yourselves Kentucky Truck Plant,” Fain said he told the company’s negotiators.