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UAW Chief Seeks to Avoid Arbitration Over Ford Grievance

United Auto Workers Union (UAW) President Bob King
United Auto Workers union (UAW) president Bob King, stands for a photo at the Ford Motor Co. booth during the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Michigan, U.S. Photographer: Jeff Kowalsky/Bloomberg

United Auto Workers President Bob King said he would prefer to avoid arbitration on a union complaint that Ford Motor Co. salaried employees didn’t sacrifice as much as hourly workers to help the company survive.

A hearing before an arbitrator is set for Sept. 15, a day after Ford’s contract covering 41,000 U.S. workers expires. More than 35,000 Ford union members, who gave up pay increases and bonuses, signed the grievance last year after the company reinstated raises, tuition aid and 401(k) matches for white-collar employees.

“You always try to work out a settlement if you can without going to arbitration,” King said in an interview yesterday at the union’s headquarters in Detroit. “If we can’t work something out, then arbitration is a last option.”

The union’s contracts covering 113,000 workers at General Motors Co., Ford and Chrysler Group LLC expire Sept. 14. King has said the UAW will not make concessions, while still keeping labor costs competitive. King has said workers must be rewarded for the $7,000 to $30,000 in givebacks they each accepted since 2005 to help the U.S. automakers survive.

Ford union locals will conduct strike-authorization votes for the automaker’s 41,000 hourly workers through Sept. 2, the UAW has said. Ford is the only automaker the union can strike because it agreed to a ban on walkouts in the contract negotiations with GM and Chrysler as part of their U.S.-led bailouts and bankruptcies in 2009. Ford didn’t take a bailout or reorganize in Chapter 11.

‘Not Thinking Strike’

“We’re not thinking strike at all; it’s not our focus, it’s not our goal,” King said. “Some of the problems are complicated, but we’ll find solutions.”

Ford fell 17 cents, or 1.6 percent, to $10.28 at 4 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares have fallen 39 percent this year after rising 68 percent in 2010.

King said he is working well with Ford Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally, GM CEO Dan Akerson and Sergio Marchionne, who runs Chrysler and its majority-owner Fiat SpA.

“They’re three really good CEOs,” King said. “We have good relationships with all three of the companies.”

Ford rewarded Mulally in March with $56.6 million in stock for leading the company’s turnaround. In addition, his 2010 compensation rose 48 percent to $26.5 million. King has called Mulally’s stock award “morally wrong” and “outrageous,” and he has said it could be an impediment to getting a contract ratified at Ford.

“Mulally’s exorbitant and excessive pay has people upset and feeling they are owed something by the company,” Gary Walkowicz , a bargaining committeeman with UAW Local 600 in Dearborn, Michigan, said in a Aug. 23 interview. “It really has become a big issue.”

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