Economy

‘Our Family Can Have a Future’: Ford Workers on a New Union Contract-TGN

Before autoworkers went on strike in September, Dave and Bailey Hodge were struggling to juggle the demands of working at a Ford Motor plant in Michigan and raising their young family.

Both were working 12-hour shifts, seven days a week, to earn enough to cover monthly bills, car payments and the mortgage on a home they had recently bought. They were also saving for the things they hoped life would eventually bring — vacations, college for their two children and retirement.

They were holding their own financially, but their shifts left them little time away from the assembly line, where both worked from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“You just sleep all the time you’re not at work,” Ms. Hodge, 25, said. Some days, she’d see her 8-year-old son off to school in the morning. She’d fall asleep with her 14-month-old daughter lying between her and Dave.

“I’d wake up in the afternoon, get dinner for the kids and go back to the plant,” she said. “Life revolved around work.”

But the couple said they expected all that to change now. Last month, Ford and the United Automobile Workers, the union that Mr. and Ms. Hodge are members of, struck a tentative agreement containing some of the biggest gains that autoworkers had won in a new contract in decades.

If the agreement is ratified, Mr. Hodge, who has been at the plant longer than Ms. Hodge, will make almost $39 an hour, up from $32. Ms. Hodge’s hourly wage will increase to more than $35 from $20. By the end of the four-and-a-half-year contract, both will be making more than $40 an hour. The agreement also provides for more time off.

Mr. Hodge, 36, said he had teared up when he heard the details. “I was super happy,” he said. “It makes me feel like our family can have a future now.”

About 145,000 workers at Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, the parent company of Chrysler, Jeep and Ram, are voting on separate but similar contracts the U.A.W. negotiated with the companies. Many labor and auto experts said a large majority of workers would most likely have the same reaction to the agreements that Mr. Hodge had and would vote in favor of the deals.

Just over 80 percent of the union members at the plant the Hodges work at, in Wayne, Mich., have already voted in favor of the deal. Voting at Ford plants is expected to end on Nov. 17.

The tentative agreement also means the Hodges are going back to work after being on strike for 41 days. Their plant, which is a 30-minute drive from downtown Detroit, was one of the first three auto factories to go on strike in September. It makes the Ford Bronco sport utility vehicle and the Ranger pickup truck.

On the evening of Sept. 14, Ms. Hodge was on a break when a union representative came by telling workers to leave. She and Mr. Hodge knew a strike was possible and had set aside enough money to cover their expenses for two to three months, but they were still surprised they were called on to strike first.

The Hodges were required to walk the picket line at the plant one day a week, leaving them lots of time for the family activities they had been missing. The U.A.W. provided $500 a week for each striking worker. The $1,000 a week the Hodges collected helped, but Ms. Hodge also went to work at a beauty spa.

“Dave paid the bills with the strike money, and if I needed anything, I used the money I got from tips,” Ms. Hodge said.

But as the strike wore on, the Hodges found they had to keep close track of their grocery shopping and stopped eating out.

“At first, you were happy to have some time off and have dinner as a family, put the kids to bed, but then it keeps going on, and you’re like, ‘Whoa, this doesn’t seem to be ending,’” Ms. Hodge said. “As it goes along, it gets scary.”

On Oct. 25, Ms. Hodge began getting texts from friends at the plant that the U.A.W. and Ford had reached a tentative agreement. That evening, she and Mr. Hodge watched an announcement by the union’s president, Shawn Fain, on Facebook.

For Mr. Hodge, the news of the union’s gains — including a 25 percent general wage increase, cost-of-living adjustments and increased retirement contributions — was hard to fathom given the slower progress workers had made in recent years.

He had started at Ford in 2007 as a temporary worker and over five years climbed to the top temporary worker wage of $27 an hour. In 2012, when he became a permanent employee, he had to start at the entry-level wage of $15 an hour.

“It took me a good 11 years to get to where I am now,” he said. “So this feels like I’m getting back what I would’ve had.”

The Hodges plan to continue working 12-hour, seven-day schedules for a short while to rebuild their savings account, and to take care of expenses they had put off, like fixing the dented bumper and cracked windshield in Ms. Hodge’s Ford Explorer.

But eventually, they want to cut back to working Monday through Friday, and perhaps one weekend a month.

“It will be great just doing some overtime, not overtime all the time,” Ms. Hodge said. “And we’ll start doing things with the kids. Maybe take them to a hotel that has a swimming pool. That would be nice.”

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