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As Ford pushes into electric vehicles, U.S. union aims to save jobs
October 5, 2017 / 6:41 PM / in 13 days

As Ford pushes into electric vehicles, U.S. union aims to save jobs

Ford Motor Company president and CEO James Hackett answer questions from the media during a press conference at Ford Motor World Headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan, U.S., May 22, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

DETROIT (Reuters) - The United Auto Workers is talking with Ford Motor Co (F.N) about ways to avoid layoffs as the No. 2 U.S. automaker builds more electric vehicles, a senior union official told Reuters on Thursday.

Ford told investors Tuesday it planned to slash $14 billion in costs over the next five years and shift investments away from internal combustion engines and sedans to develop more trucks, plus electric and hybrid cars.

“We’ve been doing our due diligence to find out how much it (electrification) means to us,” UAW Vice President Jimmy Settles, head of the union’s Ford department said in a telephone interview. “We put them on notice early on that we want to be part of this process.”

“Up to this point they (Ford) have been agreeable that it’s in the best interest of the company and also our members for us to be part of the process,” he added.

Ford’s push into electric comes after Detroit rival General Motors Co (GM.N) unveiled plans to add 20 new battery electric and fuel cell vehicles to its global lineup by 2023.

Ford’s presentation to investors this week under new chief executive Jim Hackett, included a slide touting a 30 percent reduction in “hours per unit” to build electric vehicles.

Fewer hours mean fewer workers.

German automaker Daimler AG (DAIGn.DE) warned last month that electric Mercedes models would initially be just half as profitable as conventional alternatives - forcing the group to find savings by outsourcing more component manufacturing, which may in turn threaten German jobs.

The Ford and Virginia Tech research simulated a self-driving vehicle using a "seat suit" to conceal the human driver. This was done to explore pedestrian reaction to external lighting signals that indicate when the vehicle is driving, yielding or accelerating from a stop in Arlington, Virginia, in this handout photo obtained by Reuters September 13, 2017. Ford Motor Company/Handout via Reuters

The UAW’s Settles said he had met one-on-one with Hackett, a former CEO of office furniture maker Steelcase Inc (SCS.N) and in a meeting with union leaders in recent weeks.

He said Hackett’s message had been that he wants to find new opportunities for UAW workers as electrification evolves.

“The assembly may be different, but he’s not looking to eliminate any jobs,” Settles said of Hackett. “He’s been consistent in what he’s saying and I‘m optimistic he means it.”

The UAW vice president said the union and automaker had assembled teams to discuss future jobs, including for production workers and skilled trades workers, Settles said.

Settles said Ford’s announcement in March that it would invest $200 million on a new data center in Michigan could create new union-represented, technology-related jobs.

“We need further communications on what it means in terms of jobs,” he said.

Ford has completed 85 percent of its 2015 union contract target of creating or retaining 8,500 union jobs by 2019 and could hit 100 percent by the end of 2017, Settles said.

A Ford spokeswoman said the company and the UAW are in “constant communications about the business.”

Reporting by Nick Carey; Editing by Andrew Hay

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