With barely a month to go in its contract talks, Ford Motor Co. has thrown a meaty bone to the United Autoworkers Union. And it may also take Ford out of the presidential debate, where it recently became a target of Republican front-runner Donald Trump.
Negotiations got off to a slightly testy start last month following news that the second-largest domestic automaker would likely move production of several key small car lines from Michigan to Mexico. But this week, Ford began production of heavy-duty versions of its F-Series pickups, which previously were built in Mexico, at a plant in Ohio: a move that will “secure” more than 1,000 union jobs.
“Our investment in Ohio Assembly Plant reinforces our commitment to building vehicles in America,” said Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas. “Working with our partners in the UAW, we found a way to make the costs competitive enough to bring production of a whole new generation of work trucks to Ohio.”
This marks the first time the F-650 and F-750 models will be built in the U.S. The big trucks, heavy versions of the more familiar Ford F-150, were completely redesigned for the move, which was announced in March 2014.
Opened in 1974, Ford’s Ohio Assembly Plant currently employs nearly 1,400 people and is one of the largest employers in Lorain County. In addition to now producing all Ford F-650 and F-750 models and configurations, the plant also produces the Ford E-Series cutaway vans and stripped chassis.
Ford says it will invest $168 million to support the transfer of production to the plant in Avon Lake, a suburb of Cleveland. The move is meant to expand Ford’s long-running dominance in the various commercial vehicle segments, ranging from the new Transit Connect cargo van to the Class 7 F-750 tractor rig.
But it could also help offset an issue that has spilled off the bargaining table and out into the highly charged political arena.
Barely a week before the start of quadrennial contract talks with the UAW, Ford announced it was going to pull production of the Focus sedan and C-Max people mover models out of a factory in suburban Detroit. While the maker did not say where they would move, it was widely reported that production would shift to a plant in Mexico.
Ford has been expanding its presence South of the Border, even as a wide range of competitors set up or expand their own Mexican operations. But the news didn’t sit well with the UAW, whose members have been looking at job security as one of the key issues in the current contract talks.
The issue also landed at the center of the U.S. presidential campaign, with Trump declaring that he would take steps to heavily tax any new products Ford planned to import from Mexico – though he notably did not mention vehicles that other manufacturers bring in.
Whether the potential trade-off of the F-Series pickups for the Focus and C-Max will satisfy the UAW is uncertain, but Wednesday’s announcement did generate some positive union feedback.
“Through collective bargaining, we were able to secure production of the Ford F-650/F-750 to Ohio Assembly Plant,” said Jimmy Settles, UAW vice president and director of the National Ford Department.