DEARBORN, MICH., AUG. 27 -- Ford Motor Co. yesterday gave the United Auto Workers union its first contract proposal since bargaining began in late July, but negotiators on both sides remained close-mouthed about its contents.
Stanley Surma, Ford's chief negotiator, said the six-page proposal recognized that a new contract must address the union's chief concern of job security, but he said it didn't include mechanisms for protecting workers.
"The proposal provides for continuing quality improvement, personal economic growth and greater job security. It also recognizes the need to improve the company's ability to compete in a global environment of ever-increasing challenges," Surma said.
Surma also stressed that the second-largest auto maker wants to reach a contract that fits Ford's needs, escaping the tradition of pattern bargaining in which the UAW seeks similar contracts at all auto makers.
Contracts for 104,000 Ford workers and 335,000 General Motors Corp. workers expire at 11:59 p.m. Sept. 14. The contract for third-ranked Chrysler Corp. expires next year.
"The proposal focuses on Ford people, Ford issues and the future of Ford," he said. "We feel it's an offer that certainly contains the elements that will enable us to reach a settlement."
Surma said any move toward greater job security must be linked with quality improvements and flexibility that would allow Ford to make business decisions.
Both Ford and GM have said they need contracts that will allow them to buy parts and cars from outside companies or countries, close plants and shrink payrolls if needed.
UAW Vice President Stephen Yokich did not immediately reject the proposal, as UAW Vice President Donald Ephlin did with GM's first offer, which came two weeks into negotiations. But Yokich said he was disappointed that the document didn't address job security more specifically.
"We are concerned about the job security portion of it. Quite frankly, again, they're still talking in concept. We would hope that very soon they would tell us what the concept is rather than keep telling us there is a concept," Yokich said.
Yokich said the offer also wasn't specific enough in addressing quality improvements, which he said the union has sought for several years.
"We felt that they have a lot of work in front of them and we would hope that they were prepared to come back to the bargaining table next week and do a lot of it," he said.
Surma said the proposal contained detailed economic terms but declined to reveal them. Yokich also avoided economic specifics but said, "It's through the eyes of the beholder. There's a couple of areas there that could be personal economic growth" to some, he said.
The union will get a second proposal from GM on Friday. GM's first proposal called for annual lump-sum payments in place of percentage increases in pay and cost-of-living allowances.
The GM proposal would have granted the payments in the second and third years of the three-year contract only to workers at plants that met individual targets for improving quality and productivity.
The payments for components and parts workers would have been smaller than for assembly plant workers, and the targets wouldn't be set until after the contract was ratified.
On Monday, Ephlin, Yokich and UAW President Owen Bieber will meet with other UAW officers and choose a strike target -- the company the union will settle with first.
The announcement will end months of speculation that has centered around the profitability of Ford, which is the world's most profitable auto maker, and GM's need to reduce its payroll.
The union traditionally attempts to force the agreement reached with the first company on the second.