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UAW issues 'very unusual' memo for 2021 Ford F-150 production

October 5, 2020

Ford Motor Co. is asking its UAW members to be on standby to rapidly respond as part of worst case scenario preparation in case anything goes sideways on production of the 2021 Ford F-150, which is scheduled to arrive in dealerships later this year.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, who assumed leadership of the company Thursday, has said for months that protecting the bestselling F-Series franchise is the company's top priority. While there is zero indication anything will go wrong, Ford and the UAW are leaving nothing to chance when it comes to the crown jewel in the automaker's portfolio.

The Free Press has obtained a memo provided to autoworkers by a UAW official at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant. A Flat Rock assembly worker confirmed to the Free Press receiving the memo Sept. 29 at the end of the day shift.

The UAW memo, which carries the signature of Kenny Tomalak, chairman of the Flat Rock Assembly Plant, says:

"There have been rumors of us doing repairs for F-150. In the event that the launch for the F-150 doesn't go well, we are on the list of getting some repair cars. This is all in preparation for the worst case scenario.
Early indications show that the launch will go well, but management is preparing for the worst just in case. There are three plants that are in this plan and we are the third after DTP (Dearborn Truck Plant, which builds the F-150) themselves. I will keep you informed as more develops."
The Free Press left messages for Tomalak on his office phone seeking comment Monday. Another UAW official at the plant deferred questions to Tomalak.

Issuing a memo asking workers to be ready for such a situation is "very unusual," said a longtime Flat Rock assembly worker, who asked that his name not be used because he is not authorized to discuss internal memos provided to plant workers.

The team at Flat Rock played a key role in fixing vehicles after the troubled launch of the Ford Explorer, Lincoln Aviator and Police Interceptor SUV in Chicago, a serious problem first reported by the Free Press in mid-September 2019.

"We did a phenomenal job returning the Explorers and Aviators that had so many issues in Chicago," the worker said. "Please understand, if the F-150 launch doesn't go well, that's not good for anybody. We don't want a brand new vehicle to be in need of repair."

Ford is trying to think of everything to protect quality and avoid disruption, the worker told the Free Press.

Kelli Felker, Ford global manufacturing and labor communications manager, declined to comment on the UAW notice.

"The all-new F-150 launch is on track and on time," she told the Free Press on Monday. "We are committed to ensuring our customers are pleased with the quality of all of our vehicles. We are confident our teams in Dearborn and Kansas City will execute a strong F-150 launch and we are prepared to handle issues that could arise."

'Working together'

Brian Rothenberg, national spokesman for the UAW, said in regard to the memo, “UAW members take great pride in the Ford products they make and launch. It’s a team effort to ensure quality and this is just one more example of UAW members and Ford management working together to ensure a successful quality launch.”

The assembly worker, who played a role in the previous repairs, said UAW members join Ford executives in working toward a successful launch. If there's an issue, everybody gets hurt financially — management, shareholders, dealers and workers.

UAW members, as part of their collective bargaining, share in company profits. Both General Motors and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles have profit sharing agreements with the UAW, too. Unifor, the labor union in Canada that just ratified its Ford contract, does not.

Plan A, Plan B

Ford won praise for being proactive when it comes to the F-150 plan.

"Making sure the quality levels are good are critically important in this competitive segment. Putting contingency plans in place is a smart move," said Jeoff Burris, founder of Plymouth-based Advanced Purchasing Dynamics, a supply chain consultant to auto suppliers primarily in North America.

No replay

A year ago, the Explorer, Aviator and Police Interceptor SUVs were trucked from Chicago Assembly to the Flat Rock plant south of Detroit. The company initially dismissed the situation as part of "standard industry practice" when first reported by the Free Press.

In early 2020, then-CEO Jim Hackett acknowledged the launch played a significant role in a disappointing annual earnings. Farley, then-chief operating officer, outlined company challenges and promised Feb. 26 during an automotive conference in New York that things would improve.

Sales of the popular Explorer and Police Interceptor SUV have soared since the company resolved the issues and shipped the vehicles to dealers.

'These are moneymakers'

UAW members at Flat Rock worked tirelessly to identify glitches and fix problems during the product launch in 2019 and the company has faith the manufacturing first responders can do so again, if needed.

"Being the cash cow for the Ford, every change made to the Ford F-Series comes under intense scrutiny so a launch is pivotal for the company," said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds. "This one seems even more noteworthy as it will be the first big test for new leader Jim Farley."

Not just shareholders and analysts are watching with anticipation but factory workers, too.

"I would say a majority of the union members across all the plants in North America support the company on this," the Flat Rock assembly worker told the Free Press. "These are the moneymakers. When sales go down, it affects everybody."

Industry analysts have said for months people are hoping for flawless launches of the redesigned F-150, Ford Mustang Mach-E and Ford Bronco.

Currently, Flat Rock builds the Lincoln Continental and Ford Mustang.

 

 
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