Ford and the UAW are leaders in developing a broad range of approaches to worker involvement and labor-management cooperation. These efforts, which have expanded and deepened over the years, have helped transform the Company in many ways. They have helped Ford plants gain recognition for being among the most productive in the world, and they have contributed to increased market share, improved economic performance, and enhanced employee development and work satisfaction.
The Ford and UAW joint initiatives are national and local. At both levels, they address matters of common concern in areas such as product quality, education and development, employee involvement, team structures, work technical skills redesign, health and safety, ergonomics, employee assistance, apprenticeship, and labor-management studies.
Job security protections, wide information sharing, and profit sharing are all important building blocks for this structure of workplace cooperation.
A negotiated central fund and local training funds support these joint endeavors. Administrative direction is furnished by the first National Training Center ever negotiated in the United States, plus a network of national and local committees that extends to all 68 Ford-UAW locations in the U.S.
Each workplace program has a purpose, structure, and focus of its own. Some have large programs within programs. For example, there are more than 21 individual programs in education and development and technical skills training.
The UAW-Ford experience has demonstrated two especially significant lessons about joint programs. The first is that leadership, trust, and funding are the critical ingredients – not structure. The second is that an evolutionary approach, progressing from fairly simple applications to those that are more comprehensive and integrated, is important to create and to sustain large-scale transformation.
On a national basis, it is more instructive to look at UAW-Ford workplace cooperation efforts that have been crafted over time from a historical perspective than it is to describe the discrete programs which today constitute this joint initiative. Every group’s culture, customs, and orientation to change are different, and Ford and the UAW afford individual locations considerable latitude on how they shape and run their local programs around national principles and support. Our belief is that dynamic local processes can only emanate from full participation, empowerment, and ownership of the local parties.
In the late 1970s, the parties explored Employee Involvement (EI) as a way to enlist worker commitment and effort. The objective was to improve product quality and plant operations, as well as to enhance employees’ satisfaction with their jobs and with the business. EI was formally adopted in 1979 as a voluntary process. It quickly proved its value in a severe economic downturn which precipitated one of the Company’s deepest financial crises and reduced the work force by almost one-half.
In part because of the trust built during this early experience in working together, Ford and the UAW were able to conclude an early collective bargaining agreement in 1982 that recognized the Company’s financial needs, maintained wages at current levels, and introduced a number of new features to the parties’ relationship. Among the innovations were: profit sharing, several job security protections, a joint education and development program funded by five cents per hour, and a mutual growth forum concept designed to share business information and performance.
During this period, six displaced workers’ regional centers were established in four states where Ford workers were being laid off. (Later, another six were added.) In 1988, the UAW-Ford Lima, Ohio, Reemployment Assistance Center received a Presidential Award for its outstanding program.
Also during this period, a prepaid tuition plan was adopted for active workers, including a personal development feature.
This period witnessed a broad expansion of the local worker participation programs. Nationally, there were five new thrusts: health and safety, employee assistance, labor-management studies, child care referral, and local training funds. Job security was enhanced, and a new emphasis was placed on operational effectiveness. The parties stressed leadership training at both national and local levels.
This period saw dramatic improvements in quality, efficiency, and Company profitability. Ford produced several vehicle-of-the-year models. Profit sharing resulted in substantial amounts of additional earnings for workers. There were additions to all the joint programs; significant new funding was provided; a new joint quality program was created; and additional job security protection was negotiated.
The principles of employee involvement began to spread to various kinds of additional plant efforts, including preventative maintenance, ergonomics, vendor and dealer relations, project management, team arrangements, and wholly new business team structures.
In September 1990, the U.S. Department of Labor recognized the UAW-Ford National Education, Development and Training Center for its exemplary program with its Labor Investing for Tomorrow (LIFT) Award. The Secretary of Labor made the presentation in Washington, D.C.
Steel and communications companies, among others, fashioned joint approaches in the light of the UAW-Ford efforts.
Toward the end of the period, an economic recession again hurt Ford profitability. The impact would have been greater without the help of the worker participation and labor-management cooperation efforts. The rebound was faster.
This period saw a reaffirmation of the parties’ commitment to jointly sponsored programs. These efforts reinforce and improve the welfare and long-term job security of employees represented by the UAW and concurrently improve Ford’s competitiveness.
Employee Involvement became the cornerstone of the partnership between UAW-represented Ford employees and the Company. Expanded training initiatives — including enhanced professional training for Employee Resource Coordinators (ERCs) and a Change Process Workshop for ERCs, plant management, local union representatives, group leaders and any interested workers — were created to support the EI process and further the goal of greater employee involvement.
The UAW-Ford Technical Skills Program was created and expanded to provide skills needed to ensure that the UAW-represented Ford employees are fully competent to function in the restructured, high performing workplaces of today and beyond.
The Employee Support Services Program piloted an Elder Care Consultation and Referral Program, to provide help to UAW-represented Ford employees charged with the care of elder relatives.
During this period, the UAW and Ford were committed to strengthening the sup-port for employees at home and in the workplace. The National Programs expanded and refined training and education programs, promoted awareness of health and safety issues, encouraged proactive employee involvement in quality concerns, health and safety, ergonomics and customer satisfaction, and worked to identify and embrace the many and diverse needs of all UAW-represented Ford employees, retirees and their families.
The Technical Skills Program helped fund the construction of UAW-Ford Learning Centers at many locations, and facilities were able to expand their training and education possibilities.
A UAW-Ford University was established and launched under the Education, Training and Development Program. A host of other new programs were also successfully launched. Among them were the UAW-Ford Scholarship Program for Dependent Children, the Retiree Tuition Assistance Plan, the Lifestyle Management Program: Planning Your Future, an Automotive Industries Studies Program and a Collective Bargaining Agreement Training program.
Under the Health and Safety Program, plant safety-process-review boards were established, local ergonomic committees worked to proactively improve the work place, and training programs, such as Hazardous Materials and Working at Heights, were redesigned and successfully administered.
The UAW-Ford “Best-in-Class” Quality Program established new certification training for quality representatives, established a company-wide review process of quality concerns, and made great advances in quality awareness and facilitating employee teamwork in improving quality.
In the Employee Involvement program, ERCs continued core training, the New Employee Orientation program was refined and expanded, and new training programs continued to encourage the participation of everyone in the daily activities of the plants.
The Employee Support Services Program developed professional certification training for its representatives, established the Elder Care Consultation and Referral Program, and supported the refinement of the Behavioral Emergency/Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Program in the local facilities. The joint efforts during the Rouge Powerhouse tragedy of 1999 demonstrated the power of the BE/CISD program, as well as demonstrated the commitment of everyone touched by the tragedy, including employees, families and communities.