Ford Motor Co. is planning to convert nearly 400 full-time factory workers from temporary to permanent status in January, and the Free Press has learned there are hundreds more such hires planned in 2021.
“Our temporary employees are important to help keep our plants running efficiently,” said Kelli Felker, Ford global manufacturing and labor communications manager. “We are pleased to be able to convert nearly 400 of them to full-time employees at this time, consistent with our UAW collective bargaining agreement, with more to come throughout the year.”
All the workers have been employed for two years and most are based at the Kentucky Truck Plant or Kansas City Assembly Plant. Others are at Dearborn Truck, Romeo Engine, Van Dyke Transmission, Buffalo Stamping in New York, Chicago Stamping in Illinois, Lima Engine in Ohio and Louisville Assembly in Kentucky.
Ford is the largest employer of hourly autoworkers in the U.S., with approximately 56,000 total at the start of 2020.
“During the 2019 collective bargaining negotiations, members ratified a contract that contains a defined path to full-time status,” Gerald Kariem, vice president and director of the UAW Ford department, told the Free Press in a statement Tuesday. “For many UAW families this bargained pathway will be life-changing thanks to their solidarity at the bargaining table.”
The vast majority of newly promoted workers, who get job security as well as vacation time, sick days and better medical coverage, build the Super Duty, Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator in Louisville and the F-150 pickup and Transit vans in Claycomo, Missouri.
“A lot of benefits negotiated are on hold until people go full time, like accruing personal time,” said Marcus Sheckles, vice president of UAW Local 862 in Louisville. “People just sleep more soundly at night. If the company cuts back, you’re in a different pool of workers and you can get sent to another Ford plant.”
The Dearborn automaker converted 1,347 hourly workers from temporary to permanent in 2020. The first year of the UAW contract required conversion after three or more years, while this second year of the contract requires conversation on the Monday after workers hit their two-year anniversary, Felker said.
The hiring protocol is set by the most recent national labor contract, which was finalized after a 40-day strike against General Motors. GM announced Monday it planned to move 650 UAW employees from temporary to full-time status in January.
“A lot of other companies don’t have a standard process on how long it’ll take you to get hired in. The UAW, we negotiate and fight for that, so they can’t leave you as a temp for five or six or seven or eight years and keep your life in limbo,” Sheckles said. “People work 13 years at some companies and don’t know if they’ll ever get permanent status and benefits.”
Setting a timeline for moving workers from full-time temporary to full-time permanent and health care coverage were key sticking points during the last round of negotiations.
In fact, UAW membership outside the automotive industry has grown this year and won praise for its advocacy in collaboration with auto companies during COVID-19.
Toyota workers eye union
Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles all negotiate contracts with the UAW. In Canada, the Detroit Three companies negotiate with Unifor, the union. After seeing successful contract negotiations with Ford in 2020, a nonunion worker at Toyota in Canada confirmed to the Free Press that he and others had reached out to Unifor about organizing because workers envied the job security.
Ford factory workers moving to permanent full-time status qualify for lower medical costs and get dental and vision coverage, plus company retirement contributions, profit sharing and life insurance coverage.
Ford UAW members received $6,600 in profit sharing in 2020. The company awards its UAW employees $1,000 in profit sharing for every $1 billion in North American profit before taxes. Investors like profit sharing models because they reinforce that a company’s success is directly linked to worker performance.
Family watches, waits
Sheckles has two nieces and a nephew — a UAW committee person, a forklift driver and another who installs the chassis — working at the Kentucky Truck Plant who have been there long enough to qualify as permanent.
“Once you get hired in, then the light bulb goes off. ‘I had to wait awhile, but I see now,’ ” he said. “A lot of benefits are made available, like school reimbursement for college.”
Todd Dunn, president of UAW Local 862 in Louisville, understands intimately the division between temporary and permanent status. His son Ryan is 22 and coming up on his fourth year in the body shop at Kentucky Truck. His son Alex is 19, working on the chassis line and working toward his 10th month with Ford.
“Membership will be informed by Ford when they’re converted and it’s exciting to see our members understand the meaning of full-time permanent,” Dunn said. “Everybody is all in, working to make that transition to the next level. We fight for benefits, for equality for our members, so they can see it and feel it and it’s tangible. This is about being a proud employee of Ford Motor Co.”
Alex Dunn just purchased a house down the street from his father in Louisville, “and he is on his way,” Todd Dunn said. “He is dedicated. People are putting in their time and effort. This is what it means to be union. You can’t just say you want this or that, you have to be committed to your company and have joint purpose. And we’ll make sure our families that we go home to know their jobs and benefits will be there.”