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Why Ford Is Riding Shotgun For The Uaw

To mollify the union, it's helping to organize parts suppliers

United Auto Workers President Stephen P. Yokich is grinning like a Cheshire cat these days. In mid-February, the UAW won fat pay hikes for new union members who mounted a 24-day strike at two Johnson Controls Inc. auto parts plants. They got a crucial assist from Ford Motor Co., which spurned parts made by replacement workers Johnson had hired to defeat the strikers. Now, the UAW plans to repeat the move at other parts suppliers. The goal: to use the union's leverage at all three Detroit carmakers to mount a broad recruitment drive in the mostly nonunion auto parts industry. Ford's action "is very new and exciting," says Yokich.

His experiment at Johnson Controls is being closely watched by other unions as a potentially potent new recruitment method for labor. Like the UAW, many unions represent workers at large companies whose suppliers are nonunion. AFL-CIO officials are urging unions of all industries to wage organizing drives at the suppliers and demand help from the unionized companies--or threaten sympathy strikes if they accept parts from a reluctant supplier. "Unions need to use their relationships with current employers to unionize suppliers, and the UAW is showing the way," says Nancy Mills, head of the AFL-CIO's new Center for Workplace Democracy.