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Striking Ford Workers Vow To Ease Work Load

September 19, 1985

LORAIN, Ohio (AP) _ At a time when Ford Motor Co. is emphasizing cost efficiency, quality workmanship and productivity, the 5,200 hourly workers at a sprawling assembly plant in this Lake Erie port say they are resolved to stay on strike until the competitive pressure eases.

For the first time since the strike began 12 days ago, Ford and the United Auto Workers agreed Wednesday to meet in negotiations. Talks were set to resume today.

The members of UAW Local 425 walked off their jobs Sept. 8, citing health and safety issues and what they said was the company’s unwillingness to listen to their concerns.

The plant produces Ford Thunderbirds, Cougars and Econoline vans.

According to Mike Pohorence, Local 425 president, the key issue is the company’s unwillingness to hire needed workers. He said plant ventilation and equipment safety are also important issues.

″It’s linked to their trying to be competitive, and I think they’ve overdone it,″ he said. ″We acknowledge that they have to be competitive, but not to the point they are asserting this kind of pressure and stress on line workers. It’s not going to continue to happen in our plant.″

Bob Hicks, 47, a lineman at the plant since 1965, picketed at one of the plant gates Wednesday and said workers are determined to continue giving up their paychecks, on average about $500 a week before overtime, until the health and safety issues are resolved.

″There’s pressure from supervisors,″ Hicks said. ″They demand better and better quality. But if you are overloaded, how are you going to do good quality. You can only do it to a point. When you work on the line, then you know what the strike is all about.

″At the end of every shift, I would feel exhausted. They keep adding this and that. It maybe doesn’t seem like much, but when you do it 10 hours a day along with all the other things you have to do, it’s quite a lot.″

He said he would regularly forsake his lunch and rest breaks to get required work done. The company also required him to work a sixth day every other week, he said.

″There’s just too much work, and they couldn’t keep going. So it’s a strike,″ Hicks said. ″It was the only way to get something done about it.″

Ford labor relations spokesman Jay Meisenhelder said Wednesday the company usually does not make statements about strike issues, but he made an exception.

″The company’s basic point is that manpower levels are the focal issue,″ Meisenhelder said. ″We’ve done a nine-week study, and our conclusions are that the manpower levels there are sufficient to meet our production needs and also the legitimate needs of the employees.

″We are concerned about adding manpower at a time when we have to be very cost efficient in order to compete with our foreign and domestic competition.″

UAW Region 2 Director Warren Davis said Wednesday he called a Ford official to set up a meeting. Also Wednesday, the local set up an informational meeting for all the strikers Sunday morning. Davis said he would like to offer the workers a contract to ratify at the Sunday meeting, but that the company must first ″get serious″ on strike issues.

The strike, the first at a Ford plant since a strike over local issues at a St. Louis assembly plant in 1977, has caught the attention of at least some industry analysts.

″I suspect other U.S. auto companies will also be faced with this,″ said David A. Bowers, professor of managerial studies in the Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland. ″This might be the beginning of an ongoing type of thing, although I can’t say who’s got the best bargaining power.″

Workers can expect continued pressure to increase their productivity, Bowers said. ″In other parts of the world, people do all sorts of different jobs. The Ford workers in Lorain are right when they say the jobs are becoming more demanding. They are being asked to work harder under harder circumstances.″