UAW, Ford Motor Co. start contract talks with plenty on the line

The ceremonial handshake that began contract talks between the United Auto Workers Union and The Big Three kicked off with Ford Motor Co. Monday.

"We're going to have some tough issues, some disagreements, we always do," said Bill Ford Jr. "But in the end we always try to do what's right for our company," 

There was also some tough talk from the UAW president.

"At this year's negotiations we will halt the race to the bottom, we will protect our work, our jobs, and our way of life," said Gary Jones, UAW president.

Jones said despite record profits, labor is still being asked to take concessions. Jobs have been outsourced he says to companies all over the world, paying lower wages.

"We are the voice of the American worker, we are the defenders of the middle class, and we're ready to talk," Jones said.

But talk of contract talks always leads to the chance of a potential strike - or the possibility of that if wages, benefits and so many other issues, aren't addressed and agreed to.

"We have a proud history at Ford with the UAW of working things out, where we don't have to have a work stoppage," said Joe Hinrichs, Ford president of automotive. "It's always a possibility but I think we have a good track record of finding solutions that avoid that."

A positive spin from Ford while the UAW noted what happens in these contract talks has huge repercussions for everyone.

"We are sitting down as equals with the company with an equal voice," said Brian Rothenberg, UAW spokesperson. "As the auto industry negotiations go, so does manufacturing in this country."

Rothenberg is not ruling out a possible strike.

"We'll see what will happen, that's why you have a strike fund and that's why you have the ability to strike," he said.

But auto analyst Paul Eisenstein says that's likely the last thing the UAW wants with auto sales slowing and the union weakened - both by internal legal scandal, right to work and current anti-labor sentiments.

"The UAW faces a lot of challenges," he said. "Ironically in some ways that could make them harder to deal with, because they have to score a very big win this time."

The UAW, he says, is striving not only to be strong - but to be relevant.

"They have to show the workers that it's worth believing in - and remaining in - the UAW," Eisenstein said.