Oct 16, 2023 - Economy

Ford scion: UAW strike puts "future of the American automobile industry" at stake

A Ford sign outside of the Kentucky plant where UAW workers walked out in October.

The sign outside the Ford Motor Co. Kentucky Truck Plant in the morning hours on Oct. 14 in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo: Michael Swensen/Getty Images

Ford Motor Co. executive chairman William Clay Ford Jr. urged striking workers to end their historic walkout, saying the company's future — and workers' livelihoods — are on the line.

Why it matters: In his first public remarks since the strike, the great grandson of company founder Henry Ford said the unprecedented UAW work stoppage that began Sept. 15 has put the automaker at a crossroads.

  • "Choosing the right path isn't just about Ford's future and our ability to compete. This is about the future of the American automobile industry," he said.

State of play: Ford spoke to reporters at the visitors center at the historic Rouge manufacturing complex, the site of one of the bloodiest labor battles in U.S. history.

What he's saying: "The UAW leaders have called us the enemy in these negotiations. But I will never consider our employees as enemies," said Bill Ford, 66, who added that he considers many union members to be close personal friends.

  • "This should not be Ford vs. the UAW. It should be Ford and the UAW vs. Toyota, Honda, Tesla and all the Chinese companies that want to enter our home market," he said.
  • "Toyota, Honda, Tesla and the others are loving this strike because they know the longer it goes on, the better it is for them," he added. "They will win and all of us will lose."

The other side: UAW President Shawn Fain wasn't buying it.

  • "It's not the UAW and Ford against foreign automakers. It's autoworkers everywhere against corporate greed," Fain said in a statement.
  • "If Ford wants to be the all-American auto company, they can pay all-American wages and benefits. Workers at Tesla, Toyota, Honda, and others are not the enemy — they're the UAW members of the future," Fain said in a statement.

Catch up quick: About 34,000 UAW members — 24% of members employed by Detroit automakers — have walked out at six assembly plants and 38 parts distribution facilities run by General Motors, Ford and Stellantis.

  • The strike has had a ripple effect across the industry, causing layoffs across the supplier network and even putting non-striking UAW members on furlough.
  • Automakers say they're offering record contracts, including raises above 20%, benefit improvements and increased job security. A Ford executive said last week the company had "reached our limit."

The bottom line: It's not clear that Ford's end run around UAW negotiators at the bargaining table will change anything.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to add comment from UAW President Shawn Fain.

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