By Chris Isidore, CNN
(CNN) — The United Auto Workers union surprised Ford with a major escalation of its strike, ordering workers off the job at the company’s largest plant.
Late Wednesday night, the union told 8,700 workers to strike at the Kentucky Truck Plant, which builds some of Ford’s most important vehicles, including the heavy duty version of its F Series pickup, as well as its full-size SUVs.
“We have been crystal clear, and we have waited long enough, but Ford has not gotten the message,” said UAW President Shawn Fain. “It’s time for a fair contract at Ford and the rest of the Big Three. If they can’t understand that after four weeks, the 8,700 workers shutting down this extremely profitable plant will help them understand it.”
A Ford official told media that the UAW had called for a negotiation session with Ford for Wednesday evening. He said that the union wanted a different offer from Ford from what it had presented before. After a very brief discussion that last only a few minutes, Fain told company officials, “If that’s all you got, you just lost KTP,” and the meeting ended, according to the Ford officials.
A union source has a comparable version of the brief negotiating session, with Fain telling Ford officials, “If this is all you have for us, our members lives and my handshake are worth more than this. This just cost you Kentucky Truck Plant.”
The union official did say that Fain told the company he and the union’s top negotiator at Ford would take the offer under advisement, but that the offer was the same one that Ford had made to the union weeks earlier, even though the company had been telling the union it would be making a new economic offer.
The UAW has been on strike against not only Ford, but also General Motors and Stellantis, since September 15. This is not the first time that the union has expanded the strike to additional facilities. But this is the first time it has expanded the strike to additional targets without any public warning that an expansion would be happening.
The strike’s expansion occurred at 6:30 pm ET Wednesday evening, although the Ford official said that talk on the plant floor ahead of the negotiation session indicated workers would go on strike after 6 pm.
By hitting the Kentucky Truck Plant, the union is going after a much more profitable part of Ford’s line-up. The vehicles at the plant produce annual revenue of $25 billion for the company, or about one-sixth of its overall global revenue. While it does not produced the F-150, the company’s best selling vehicle, it builds the larger versions of the truck as well as the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs.
Up until Wednesday night, the UAW’s strike at Ford had been directed at a plant in Wayne Michigan that builds the Ford Ranger small pickup truck and the Bronco, and the Chicago Assembly plant that builds the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Aviator SUVs. While all of those are are profitable vehicles they are not the profit drivers that are the Ford heavy duty pickups and full-size pickups.
The company said that it believes the economic terms of offer, in terms of wages and benefits, is the best made so far by any of the three automakers.
“The UAW leadership’s decision to reject this record contract offer – which the UAW has publicly described as the best offer on the table – and strike Kentucky Truck Plant, carries serious consequences for our workforce, suppliers, dealers and commercial customers,” said a statement from Ford.
It said that shutting the Kentucky Truck Plant also puts at risk approximately a dozen additional Ford operations and many more supplier operations that together employ well over 100,000 people.
There had been hopes that there was enough progress being made that an agreement to end the strike at at least one of the companies could be close at hand. On Friday, Fain declined to expand the strike and told union members that GM had agreed to a key bargaining demand to include workers at a joint venture battery plant the company has opened and at others it is planning in this national master agreement with the union.
The union is very concerned that the automakers’ plans to convert from gasoline powered cars to electric vehicles in coming years could cost member jobs by shifting jobs away from union-represented engine and transmission plants to nonunion battery factories.
The Ford official said most of the negotiations between the UAW and company so far this week have focused on the company’s own joint venture battery plants, and well as retirement benefits, another major bargainging demand for the union. He said that progress had been made on those issues before Wednesday’s negotiating session.
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