Ford, UAW open contract talks amid uncertainty
Officials from Ford and the United Auto Workers opened a new round of contract negotiations Friday, saying they are committed to resolving their differences without a strike.
"It's like welcoming old friends back," Ford chairman William Clay Ford said at the opening ceremony of the talks.
"I'd like to thank you for what you've have done to help us weather an economic downturn that was like nothing I've ever seen before," he added.
Detroit's three big automakers, including General Motors and Chrysler, are all in contract talks with the United Auto Workers amid an uncertain economy and limited prospects for gains for the union's 100,000 workers.
General Motors and Chrysler received federal help in 2009 that bailed the companies out of bankruptcy. The bailout terms include a provision banning workers at those companies from striking.
Ford, however, did not receive federal bailout funds so the unionized workers have the right to go on strike.
"We're excited to be here," said UAW president Bob King. "Ford turned around because of efforts of our members and we want to negotiate a contract that rewards them."
King also dismissed talk of a possible strike at Ford.
"I don't think about a strike. It doesn't enter my thought processes," said King, waving aside speculation the negotiations would be difficult because of the company's healthy profits and lush executive compensation packages.
"I know we have some differences. We always do," added Jimmy Settles, the UAW vice president in charge of the negotiations. But "we have learned the art of negotiation," he said, adding the last strike at Ford was 35 years ago.
Ford chief executive Alan Mulally said the negotiations will set the stage for the next step in Ford's growth, noting the company was prepared to add some 7,000 new employees over the next two years.