The United Auto Workers union and Ford have reached a tentative agreement that could end the nearly six-week strike against the iconic Detroit automaker, the union announced Wednesday.
The deal, the full details of which were not immediately released, must still be ratified in a vote by the 57,000 union members who work at Ford. In the meantime, the UAW continues to negotiate with General Motors and Jeep parent company Stellantis, where workers are also on strike.
But if workers like what they see in the Ford deal, it could serve as a blueprint to resolve contract talks with the other two automakers and end work stoppages that have hit a growing number of the Big Three automakers’ factories since Sept. 15.
In an online address to union members Wednesday night, UAW President Shawn Fain called the tentative deal a “historic agreement” that squeezed “every penny possible” out of the company.
“We told Ford to pony up, and they did,” Fain said. “We won things nobody thought was possible.”
The deal includes a 25% general wage increase for workers over the course of four years, the union said. Factoring in additional cost-of-living increases, the pay hikes would amount to 30% for workers currently earning the top rate and 68% for those earning the lowest, the union said.
The agreement would also chip away at the controversial “two-tier” compensation system in which newer workers earn less for doing the same work as longer-tenured employees. Rather than taking seven years to reach the top pay rate, newer workers would top out after three years.
The contract would also guarantee workers the right to strike when Ford shuts down a plant. “That means they can’t keep devastating our communities and closing plants with no consequences,” said Chuck Browning, the union’s vice president.
Ford said in a statement that it was “pleased” to have reached an agreement with the union and that it was focused on restarting its three production plants that had been shut down, including its highly profitable Kentucky Truck Plant, which produces the Super Duty pickup series.
“Ford is proud to assemble the most vehicles in America and employ the most hourly autoworkers,” the company said.
Fain said the union was calling on all union members at Ford to return to their jobs while the contract was going through the ratification process. He said the deal must first be approved by a union council, then be sent to members for a ratification vote. If members were to reject the deal, a strike could continue.
President Joe Biden hailed the deal in a statement Wednesday, though he noted members would have “the final word” on the matter.
“This tentative agreement is a testament to the power of employers and employees coming together to work out their differences at the bargaining table in a manner that helps businesses succeed while helping workers secure pay and benefits they can raise a family on and retire with dignity and respect,” the president said.
The strike marks the first time the UAW has waged a concurrent work stoppage against all of the Big Three. Rather than walk out at all of the companies’ plants at once, the union chose to strike only select factories and then escalate by striking against more.
The union has tried to squeeze the companies tighter over the past two weeks by halting production of high-margin pickups and SUVs. In addition to striking Ford’s Kentucky plant, workers also walked out at Stellantis’ Ram pickup plant in Michigan and a GM plant in Texas that produces the Chevy Tahoe and Cadillac Escalade SUVs.
“We knew we were getting close, but we also knew the companies needed a major push if we were going to make sure we got every penny possible,” Fain said. “So we took our strike to a new phase.”