Ford Motor Co. may find easier going than General Motors Corp. in its efforts to wring contract concessions from the United Auto Workers.
For starters, the immediate stakes are higher at Ford. Unlike GM, which should post a profit for 1981, Ford is expected to report a loss of more than $1 billion in what has become the industry's worst sales year in two decades.
As a result, Ford workers appear to be more receptive to the need to cut labor costs than their union brethren at GM.
More importantly, Ford appears to be taking a much different basic contract approach than GM. Under the GM proposal rejected by the UAW this week, union members were being asked to trim existing contract pay benefits. Ford, on the other hand, appears to be asking its union members to sacrifice future gains rather than existing pay.
This is the basic approach taken by both the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union--two of the nation's largest unions--in agreeing to major contract concessions in recent months in an effort to preserve union jobs in the trucking and meatpacking industries.
In both contracts, union members were allowed to preserve basic wage and benefit gains won in previous contracts. In exchange, the two unions essentially agreed to freeze wages through the mid-1980s.
The meatcutters, in agreements worked out with major union packing houses late last year, basically agreed to freeze all wages and omit cost-of-living increases through August 1985. But the contract maintains existing fringe benefits.
The Teamster contract, which was negotiated three months in advance of the current pact's March 31 expiration date, freezes all basic wages for the 39-month life of the new agreement but continues cost-of-living benefits. All of the cost-of-living allowance money will be used to maintain health and pension benefits, however.
In exchange for the contract concessions, trucking firms covered by the Teamsters' master freight agreement pledged not to start nonunion subsidiaries in an effort to take advantage of industry deregulation.
The meatpacking companies, in exchange for the concessions, agreed not to shut down any plants for the first 18 months of the contract. They also agreed to allow the union to audit the capital spending annually at each individual plant to see what the firms were doing to modernize and to compete with the nonunion sector of the industry.
Ford is targeting future wage and cost-of-living gains in an effort to reduce its longer-range labor costs. In exchange, Ford is offering profit sharing and some form of job security for the union membership. The company will not reveal details of its job security proposal until after negotiations with the UAW resume Monday, but most speculation centers around some form of job protection based on seniority.
The union leadership appears ready to negotiate concessions with Ford. "We have to change the philosophy of collective bargaining," says Donald Ephlain, the UAW vice president in charge of the Ford negotiations. The real question now is how willing Ford's UAW membership will be to go along with any agreement worked out at the bargaining table.