DETROIT — Workers at a Ford Motor Co. plant near Kansas City, Mo., have voted to let their union leaders call a strike against the company.
United Auto Workers members at Ford's Claycomo plant voted 3,049 to 18 in favor of authorizing a strike, local union President Jeff Wright said in an e-mail Monday.
The vote is standard procedure in contract negotiations and doesn't necessarily mean that there will be a strike.
UAW President Bob King said Monday that he's "upbeat" about the negotiations and doesn't expect a strike. He wouldn't give any details about the progress of the talks, which officially began last month.
"Nobody has more at stake in the success of these companies than UAW members," King said at a meeting of the Detroit Economic Club.
Workers at the Claycomo plant voted on Thursday and Saturday, and were among the first in the company to cast ballots. All Ford workers represented by the UAW will vote on the same issue by Sept. 2.
Contracts between the union and Ford, General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC expire on Sept. 14.
All three companies are now making money, and King says workers should share in the newfound profits. But at the same time, he says companies must have labor costs that are competitive with Asian rivals, mainly Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. King said one priority for the union is raising the pay of entry-level workers. Those workers make $14 an hour, or half the pay of legacy workers.
"We're very concerned about the entry-level member having a middle-class standard of living, which I would argue they don't," King said.
Technically the UAW can strike only at Ford over the issue of wages. Strikes over pay are prohibited at GM and Chrysler under terms of both companies' government bailouts. Ford avoided bankruptcy by taking out massive private loans.
The negotiations are the first since Chrysler and GM accepted government aid and emerged from bankruptcy in 2009. The contracts will set wages and benefits for 111,000 UAW members nationwide and pay levels for manufacturing jobs in the automobile and other industries.
Ford has the highest total labor cost in the industry at $58 per hour, compared with Toyota's $55, according to the Center for Automotive Research. All three companies want to lower their costs to get closer to the competition.
Many Ford workers want concessions made in 2007 and 2009 restored, and they're angry that white-collar workers got bonuses this year and raises last year while factory workers gave up pay increases. They're also unhappy about CEO Alan Mulally's $26.5 million pay package for 2010.
Ford factory workers got $5,000 profit-sharing checks earlier this year. The company made $4.95 billion in the first half of the year.