DEARBORN, MICH., AUG. 31 -- The United Auto Workers union today chose Ford Motor Co. as its 1987 strike target, a move that intensifies contract talks at the No. 2 auto maker and leaves General Motors Corp. temporarily on the sidelines.
"Our first objective is to establish a settlement pattern that is good for the workers and good for the industry by making stable domestic employment a part of how these companies do business," said UAW President Owen Bieber, whose choice of Ford was approved by union leaders.
"It's been said that Ford is supposed to be a hotbed of good ideas, so we're going to give them the opportunity to demonstrate that the same is true in the labor relations arena," Bieber said.
Ford chief negotiator Stanley Surma said Ford had bargained under the assumption it would be the target. He said Ford wanted a settlement that addresses the union's top priority of job security while ensuring that Ford's quality and competitive position improve.
The UAW has rejected two GM offers and expressed displeasure with Ford's only offer in a month of bargaining. Bieber said neither company has made a proposal that could serve as a basis for a settlement.
The GM and Ford contracts both expire at midnight Sept. 14, but the selection of Ford as the target means the union will seek to settle with Ford first. The union could strike Ford if no agreement is reached by the deadline, while GM rolls out its 1988 models without immediate fear of interruption.
The union will turn its attention to GM, the nation's largest auto maker, only after a 200-member Ford worker council approves an agreement, which the union will try to force on GM in a process called pattern bargaining.
Chrysler Corp. doesn't return to the table until 1988, but the union will also try to include it in the pattern. The UAW is bargaining for 335,000 active GM workers and 104,000 Ford workers.
The target decision means contract talks could stretch through the fall, and perhaps into early winter. Most union members consider a Ford settlement easier to reach, especially when it comes to its top demand of greater job security, because Ford is more profitable and has fewer plants and workers than GM. Ford's 1986 net income was $3.3 billion, while GM earned $2.9 billion.
Negotiations at GM could be more difficult because the union faces a stiff battle in trying to force GM to accept a Ford contract, as GM chief negotiator Alfred Warren emphasized in a statement.
"There are sufficient differences between GM and its domestic competitors that demand a separate agreement specifically tailored to GM," Warren said.
Bieber announced the target decision first to a disappointed 300-member GM worker council. Ford workers, when they heard the decision, cheered, pounded tables and stamped their feet.
"General Motors has built the contract the last two times. I feel it's time for Ford to put together a contract we can all live under," said Joe Lefever, a representative of Local 192 in Maumee, Ohio. Lefever said he believed the UAW could get a better contract at Ford because "there are less problems at Ford."