The UAW blasted Jim Farley’s pay package after the Ford CEO accused it of driving the company towards bankruptcy by wanting factory workers to earn far more than other valued professions.
Speaking to CNBC on Thursday, Farley portrayed its demand for a 40% total wage hike over a four-year contract—or roughly 10% annually—as excessive and unfair to other hard-working Americans.
“Instead of making money and distributing $75,000 in profit sharing the last ten years, we would have lost $15 billion and gone bankrupt by now. The average pay would be nearly $300,000 fully fringed for a four-day work week [per UAW employee],” he told the broadcaster.
“A full tenured schoolteacher in the U.S. makes $66,000, some of the military or firemen makes mid $50,000. This is four, five times, six times what they make.”
It’s unclear how Farley arrived at his figures as they would suggest factory line workers currently earn more $210,000 in annual total compensation. Moreover, negotiations typically involve two parties deliberately putting forward maximalist demands knowing they will meet somewhere in the middle.
Ford could not be reached by Fortune for comment.
This man made $21 MILLION DOLLARS last year. https://t.co/9H3wLk5Vo0
— UAW (@UAW) September 14, 2023
Farley subsequently sought to drive a wedge between his hourly workers and the union, implying the latter had little actual interest in the well-being of its members since it refused the company’s counteroffer.
“You want us to choose bankruptcy over supporting our workers?” he rhetorically asked the UAW.
Tug of war for public support
By casting the UAW as greedy, Farley is gambling he can win over the public—a key bargaining chip to prevail in a strike. Whichever side to first find itself perceived as the less reasonable typically ends up being the first to concede on key stumbling blocks.
The UAW however was quick to respond to Farley’s emotional appeal, putting the boot into the Ford boss personally in a bid to portray him as a hypocrite.
“This man made $21 MILLION last year,” the union posted on social media in a bid to regain the moral high ground.
Non-profit advocacy group As You Sow seemed to agree. According to its estimates, there is a sizeable discrepancy between the performance of Ford and GM when compared to larger foreign peers and their CEO’s generous pay packages.
Courtesy of As You Sow
Fighting to recoup a considerable loss in purchasing power during the past two years of high inflation, workers point to the trio’s record profits—a combined $21 billion in the first six months of this year—as proof that shareholders have helped themselves to more than a fair share of the pie.
On Thursday night, UAW boss Shawn Fain announced rolling strikes at Detroit’s General Motors, Ford and Chrysler-parent Stellantis.
“Tonight for the first time in our history, we will strike all three of the Big 3 at once,” he said.
Pressure to upstage the Teamsters’ success with UPS
About 13,000 workers picketed the GM Wentzville plant in Missouri, Stellantis’ Toledo facility and Ford’s Michigan Assembly in Wayne. All three focus on higher-margin models like pick-up trucks and SUVs that are critical to the companies’ bottom line.
Shopfloor workers elsewhere will continue to build cars under an expired contract until they are called upon to down tools and walk out.
“This strategy will keep the companies guessing. It will give our national negotiators maximum leverage and flexibility in bargaining,” Fain said. “And if we need to go all out we will—everything is on the table.”
In a statement on Thursday, Ford warned union workers that striking for better pay and conditions will hurt them financially.
“Our hourly employees would take home nearly 60% less on average with UAW strike pay than they would from working. And without vehicles in production, the profit-sharing checks that UAW workers could expect to receive early next year will also be decimated by a significant strike.”
The pressure is on Fain to win a pay hike at least as lucrative as the Teamsters. The latter made headlines with their recent UPS deal that saw interest in applying to become a delivery driver soar. All that rival union needed to do was simply authorize a strike in order to gain enough leverage to hammer out a deal it claimed was worth $30 billion—following through on its threat proved to be unnecessary.
But not every union has been as successful in extracting concessions. The Writers’ Guild of America and the Screen Actors Guild have been on strike for months to negotiate better terms with Hollywood studios with nothing to show for it.
“The money is there, the cause is righteous, the world is watching and the UAW is ready to stand up,” union boss Fain said. “This is our defining moment.”