Ford uses jobs as bargaining chip

A worker builds engines on the assembly line at Ford's Chicago Assembly plant Aug. 4, 2009 in Chicago, Ill.

Kai Ryssdal: Seven thousand jobs in the whole American economy is something like 0.004 percent of the entire workforce. But it speaks volumes about just how desperate things are, that even such a relatively small number of new jobs has become a point of contention.

Ford announced back in January it's planning to hire 7,000 people over the next two years. Bloomberg News reported this morning those jobs have become a bargaining chip for Ford in its negotiations with the United Auto Workers.

Marketplace's Alisa Roth has more.


Alisa Roth: Neither Ford nor the UAW will talk about the contract negotiations until they come to an agreement. But Ford is reportedly dangling the promise of as many as 10,000 jobs.

Alex Colvin is a professor of labor relations at Cornell University. He says back in the '50s and '60s, jobs weren't usually part of these kinds of negotiations, because they didn't have to be.

Alex Colvin: Nowadays, employment goes up and down a lot more, depending on the competitiveness of the business and so as a result, it can be much more of a bargaining chip in either direction, either the possibility of increased employment or protections against loss of employment.

Ford already announced it would create roughly 7,000 new jobs in the next two years: around 6,000 manufacturing jobs and 750 engineering ones. But there's still a lot of room for negotiation on questions like whether workers who've been laid off will get first dibs, and whether jobs that've been moved overseas could be brought back.

Gary Chaisson is a professor of labor relations at Clark University. He says workers have been forced to make a lot of concessions recently on issues like wages and health care. And now that Ford is doing well again, the UAW is trying to get some of those benefits back.

Gary Chaisson: The main scenario we're seeing here is that Ford is holding out the enticement of saving jobs as saying that this is the quid pro quo if the union does not ask to have everything reversed all at once.

Ford workers aren't the only ones using jobs as leverage in their union negotiations. Yesterday, the UAW signed a new contract with GM that includes the promise of 6,400 new jobs.

I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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