Ford CEO: UAW strike on Kentucky truck plant 'changed' relationship going forward

Ford Motor Co. CEO Jim Farley said Thursday the UAW decision to strike Ford truck production last year has changed the relationship between the automaker that employs the most hourly workers in the U.S. and the union that represents them.

"It was an extremely difficult moment for the company," Farley said during remarks to the Wolfe Research Global Auto and Auto Tech Conference in New York. "It's been a watershed moment for the company. Does it have a business impact? Yes."

Ford, which has an old history of brutality against union organizers, has prided itself in recent years on having the strongest relationship with the United Auto Workers.

The Dearborn automaker employs some 57,000 hourly workers in the U.S., "far beyond the other competitors," and all the full-size trucks are built in the U.S., Farley said. "My competitors do not do that. They went through bankruptcy and they moved production" to Mexico and other places.

Ford CEO Jim Farley is swarmed by members of the media after the 2024 F-150 reveal at Hart Plaza in Detroit on the eve of the North American International Auto Show on Tuesday, Set. 12, 2023.
Ford CEO Jim Farley is swarmed by members of the media after the 2024 F-150 reveal at Hart Plaza in Detroit on the eve of the North American International Auto Show on Tuesday, Set. 12, 2023.

"And so, it's always been a cost for us, and we always thought it was the right kind of cost," Farley said. "Our reliance on the UAW turned out to be — we were the first truck plant they shut down. That was a moment for us. Clearly our relationship has changed."

While the UAW started its strike against Ford at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, which builds the Ford Bronco and Ford Ranger, the financial impact of striking the Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville and its highly profitable Super Duty trucks was the most severe in 2023.

More: 'Louisville is a union town': A look back at the 2023 labor movement in the metro area

Ford executive chair Bill Ford urged the UAW to end its strike on the company.

It was the first to reach a tentative agreement, creating a model for others to follow. The tenor of the strike, which achieved a historic contract by every measure, included unprecedented personal attacks on auto executives from UAW President Shawn Fain.

In the end, Ford did not fold its battery plant workers into the national union contract as General Motors CEO Mary Barra agreed to do.

General Motors CEO Mary Barra speaks to a crowd of journalists during a fireside chat with APA president Mike Wayland at the Gem Theatre in Detroit on Monday, December 4, 2023.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra speaks to a crowd of journalists during a fireside chat with APA president Mike Wayland at the Gem Theatre in Detroit on Monday, December 4, 2023.

"I’m extremely proud ... about our negotiation around the battery plants. It’s materially different than our competitors," Farley said. "And as far as Ford has a lot of waste in its industrial system. So we do have a lot of runway to improve in manufacturing. We’re committing to that as part of the $2 billion" in savings in 2024.

"But as we look at this EV (electric vehicle) transition and ICE (internal combustion engines) lasting longer, and our truck business being more profitable, we have to think carefully about our footprint," Farley said.

More: Ford UAW employees get bigger profit-sharing checks for 2023 despite strike

More: Ford earnings report shows revenue is up by $2B despite UAW strike cost

He did not criticize the cost of the union contract. Ford has committed to billions of dollars in U.S. investment during the life of the four-plus year contract.

UAW responds

Fain provided a statement to the Free Press in response to Farley's remarks that emphasized the strength of the negotiated contract, not how it was won. Fain encouraged Ford to stay focused on improving the company and said the UAW would handle the rest. "We’re moving forward raising the standards across the industry from the Big Three to the non-union companies."

Contact Phoebe Wall Howard: 313-618-1034 or phoward@freepress.com. Follow her on X at @phoebesaid

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Ford CEO: UAW strike on Kentucky truck plant 'changed' relationship