The tentative agreement between Ford and the United Auto Workers will move nearly 20,000 workers off the picket line and onto the assembly line in the coming days.
But it may take a while before all 4,613 autoworkers at Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant on the city’s Southeast Side are back on the job.
“This is going to be a gradual process, it’s not going to happen overnight,” Ford spokesperson Dan Barbossa said Thursday.
After nearly six weeks of striking against the Big Three automakers, the UAW reached a tentative agreement with Ford Wednesday. The new four-year deal includes a 25% increase in base wages through April 2028 that will raise the top rate to more than $40 an hour. The agreement will also reinstate cost-of-living adjustments lost during the Great Recession and end wage tiers, and it includes a right to strike over plant closures.
The UAW said Ford workers will return to work while the agreement goes through the ratification process. The strike will continue at Stellantis and General Motors.
“There was a lot of excitement last night when we heard the news,” said Chris Pena, president of UAW Local 551, which represents workers at the Chicago Assembly Plant. “There was a giant sigh of relief that we’re going back to work.”
When the previous contract expired Sept. 15, the UAW launched a strike against all three automakers for the first time in the Detroit-based union’s 88-year history. The strike expanded to nearly 45,000 UAW members at eight assembly plants and 38 parts distribution centers in 22 states.
The walkouts accelerated this week when 5,000 autoworkers at Arlington Assembly in Texas joined the UAW strike, shutting down production at GM’s largest plant, which makes SUVs such as the Chevy Tahoe, Chevy Suburban, GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade. On Monday, 6,800 autoworkers walked out at the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant in Michigan, where Stellantis builds its Ram pickup trucks.
In a statement Wednesday, Ford said job one is gearing up its three plants where UAW workers went on strike.
“We are focused on restarting Kentucky Truck Plant, Michigan Assembly Plant and Chicago Assembly Plant, calling 20,000 Ford employees back to work and shipping our full lineup to our customers again,” the company said.
The return-to-work call includes more than 16,600 striking employees at the three Ford plants and 3,617 workers temporarily laid off because of the production shutdown, Barbossa said.
In an Oct. 12 media briefing, Ford said it may take up to four weeks to get the factories back up to full speed.
Thousands of employees at Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant, who have been walking the picket line since Sept. 29, are hoping to be back on the job as soon as possible, Pena said.
“Reality was setting in after 27 days on strike and people were anxious for answers,” Pena said. “They saw that more and more plants were going out and they were just ready to get back to work. No one wants to be out there standing on the picket line during Thanksgiving, or possibly Christmas.”
While the union still needs to ratify the agreement, Pena said the highlights provide “life-changing wages” for the autoworkers.
In addition to calling back the striking workers, Ford will rehire thousands of workers temporarily laid off, including 255 at the Chicago Stamping Plant, which supplies parts to the Chicago Assembly Plant.
Ford employs about 1,000 hourly workers at the stamping plant in Chicago Heights who are members of UAW Local 588. Those workers had not been called to strike by the union.
The Chicago Assembly Plant makes the Ford Explorer, Lincoln Aviator and Police Interceptor SUVs. In 2019, Ford spent $1 billion to transform the nearly century-old Torrence Avenue facility, which phased out production of the Taurus sedan to focus on building SUVs.
The Explorer, which is made exclusively at the Chicago Assembly Plant, is among Ford’s bestselling vehicles.
GM and Stellantis are meeting with UAW negotiators Thursday in an attempt to strike a similar deal to the one Ford reached. But it is likely Stellantis will need to include getting its Belvidere plant reopened in some capacity.
In February, Stellantis “indefinitely” idled the 60-year-old auto plant near Rockford and laid off its last 1,200 union workers after halting Jeep Cherokee production amid dwindling sales.
Repurposing the 5 million-square-foot plant likely remains part of any new labor agreement, with everything from a “megahub” parts distribution center to building EV batteries on the table, according to sources familiar with negotiations.
The Associated Press contributed.