Ford CEO says UAW is 'holding the deal hostage' over EV battery plants


Members of the United Auto Workers union picket outside the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, on Sept. 26, 2023.

Matthew Hatcher | AFP | Getty Images

DETROIT — The United Auto Workers union is holding up negotiations with Ford Motor over future electric vehicle battery plants, Ford CEO Jim Farley said during a press briefing Friday.

“I believe we could have reached a compromise on pay and benefits, but so far the UAW is holding the deal hostage over battery plants,” he said after the UAW announced it would expand strikes to two additional assembly plants — one each for Ford and General Motors.

Farley criticized the union for its targeted strike strategy, saying he feels the actions were “premeditated” and insinuating the union was never interested in reaching a deal before a Sept. 14 deadline.

“We have felt from the very beginning, between all the lines of our comments, that the original strike was premeditated and that everything is taking way too long,” he said. Farley criticized the union for its targeted strike strategy, saying he feels that the actions were “premeditated” and insinuating that they never wanted to reach a deal before a Sept. 14 deadline.

Farley said he felt from the very beginning, between all of our comments, that original strike was premeditated and everything is taking way too long. It has been frustrating. “

Farley’s public criticism of the union is uncharacteristic for Ford, which is historically viewed as the most union-friendly company of the Detroit automakers.

Farley said the company isn’t “at an impasse” with the union but warned that day “could come if this continues. “

GM CEO Mary Barra echoed much of Farley’s criticisms of Fain and the UAW’s strike strategy.

“It’s clear that there is no real intent to get to an agreement,” she said in an emailed statement Friday night. It is obvious that Shawn Fain wishes to make history, but not at the expense of the team members who are represented and the industry. “

UAW president Shawn Fain responded to Farley by saying that the CEO had not been at the bargaining tables and was “lying” about the current state of negotiations. “

It may be that he didn’t show up to bargain this week as he did for the majority of the last ten weeks. Fain stated in a Friday afternoon statement that if he was there, he would know that we sent Ford a comprehensive offer on Monday but have yet to hear back. He would also be aware that we have a wide gap on key economic issues like retirement security, post-retirement health care, and job security, especially in the EV transition. Farley has said this will result in the loss of 40 percent or more of our members jobs. “

Multibillion-dollar EV battery plants — and their thousands of expected workers — are crucial to the automotive industry’s future and uniquely positioned to have wide-ranging implications for the UAW, automakers and President Joe Biden’s push toward domestic manufacturing.

Current and former union leaders previously told CNBC that the battery plants will have to be a priority for the labor organization, regardless of whether they’re directly discussed in the national agreement, for the long-term viability of the union.

However, they’re considered a “wild card” issue in the contract negotiations. Many of the battery plants that have been announced cannot legally be included in the current talks, as they are joint venture facilities.

United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain addresses picketing UAW members at a General Motors Service Parts Operations plant in Belleville, Michigan, on Sept. 26, 2023, as U.S. President Joe Biden joined the workers.

Jim Watson | Afp | Getty Images

Ford has announced four future battery plants, including three joint ventures and a wholly owned subsidiary using battery technology licensed from Chinese auto supplier CATL. Ford earlier this week paused construction on the latter plant in Marshall, Michigan, due to the union negotiations, Farley said.

“We can make Marshall a lot bigger or a lot smaller,” Farley said Friday.

GM is the only Detroit automaker with a joint venture battery plant in operation and unionized — making it the first in the country to face this particular negotiating dynamic and a landmark plant to set standards for the industry.

Farley noted that some of the battery production won’t even be covered under the timeline of the deals that are currently being negotiated. Farley also defended previous offers from the company, including more than 20% in hourly wages, reinstatement cost-of living adjustments, job protections, and other benefits. It is irresponsible for these strikes to continue and harm thousands of families. “