‘At The Limit’: Ford Claims It Cannot Offer More To Striking Auto Workers

‘At The Limit’: Ford Claims It Cannot Offer More To Striking Auto Workers

Good morning! It’s Friday, October 13, 2023, and this is The Morning Shift, your daily roundup of the top automotive headlines from around the world, in one place. Here are the important stories you need to know.

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1st Gear: Ford Says Can’t Increase Wage Offers To UAW

A senior Ford executive said earlier this week that the automaker is “at the limit” of what it can spend on wage increases and benefits for striking United Auto Workers members. He also warned that the union’s strike at the company’s most profitable factory, which started on October 11, could harm workers and slash profits.

“We have been very clear that we are at the limit,” Kumar Galhotra, head of Ford’s combustion vehicle unit, reportedly said during a conference call October 13. “We stretched to get to this point. Going further will hurt our ability to invest in the business.” From Reuters:

Ford is open to reallocating money within its current offer in further bargaining with the union to secure an agreement, Galhotra said. Ford is also working with the UAW on a way to bring workers at joint-venture electric vehicle battery plants into the UAW-Ford agreement, he said.

UAW President Shawn Fain on Wednesday ordered a strike at Ford’s Kentucky Truck factory after Ford negotiators did not present a richer contract proposal.

UAW negotiators turned their attention on Thursday to talks with Chrysler parent Stellantis, union President Shawn Fain said, confirming a Reuters report.

“Here’s to hoping talks at Stellantis today are more productive than Ford yesterday,” Fain wrote on social media. Stellantis did not immediately comment.

The standoff between Auto Workers and Ford could soon end up impacting thousands of workers who are not UAW members.

About 4,600 Ford workers could be idled because their jobs depend on production of Super Duty pickups and large Lincoln and Ford SUVs at Kentucky Truck, said Ford manufacturing vice president Bryce Currie.

Already, 13,000 workers at Ford suppliers have been furloughed because of earlier UAW walkouts at two Ford assembly plants, Ford supply chain chief Liz Door said. The shutdown of Kentucky Truck, Ford’s largest factory, could push a fragile supply chain “toward collapse,” she said.

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UAW leaders have said that Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis can actually afford to increase pay for UAW workers beyond the 20-ish percent they have been offered, end lower-wage tiers for seniority and temporary workers, and restore defined benefit pensions lost in 2007 if they just rein in share buybacks and cut executive pay.

For reference, the Big Three CEOs all make between $21 and $29 million per year, which works out to be about 300 times what their employees do.

2nd Gear: A $7 Billion Hydrogen Expansion Is Coming

President Joe Biden is expected to announce the locations of seven regional hubs to manufacture hydrogen on October 13. It’s a fuel that has largely only been viable for use in California because that’s where all the filling stations currently are.

Biden will make the announcement with Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm at the Tioga Marine Terminal in the Port of Philadelphia. It will eventually be used to produce hydrogen from renewable and nuclear power at a new Mid-Atlantic hydrogen hub comprising of parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. From CNN:

Seven regional hubs will be awarded funding from a pot of $7 billion that was passed last year as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law. In addition to the Mid-Atlantic, the new hubs will include:

An Appalachian hub, located across West Virginia, Southeastern Ohio, and Southwestern Pennsylvania – this hub will be the one largest in terms of production and derive hydrogen from the region’s methane gas;

A California hub that will span the state and encompassing the ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles and Oakland;

A Houston, Texas-based hub that could eventually expand to include parts of Louisiana, which will derive hydrogen from methane gas and renewable energy;

An Upper Midwest hub spanning Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, which will derive hydrogen from wind energy and will be used for agriculture and power;

A second Midwest hub will span parts of Illinois, Indiana and southwest Michigan and will be derived mostly from nuclear power;

And a Pacific Northwest hub will span parts of Eastern Washington and Oregon as well as parts of Montana and will focus on hydrogen for freight and agriculture.

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Officials reportedly say they are still determining exact locations for the hubs in each region.

The plan from the Biden administration is that these hubs will hopefully spark new U.S. industries that senior administration officials reportedly estimated could create about $50 billion in public and private investment and create tens of thousands of jobs.

3rd Gear: GM Ultium Factory Slapped With OSHA Fine

GM’s Ultium Cells EV battery plant in Warren, Ohio is facing about $270,000 in fines after federal investigators found 19 health and safety violations.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration said on October 12 that investigators examined the cause of an explosion and fire at the plant that happened back in March. It led the agency to hit the factory with 17 serious violations and two other violations that impacted job safety and health. From Automotive News:

OSHA inspectors found Ultium — a joint venture between General Motors and South Korea’s LG Energy Solution to produce battery cells for the automaker’s EVs — “exposed workers to machine and chemical hazards by failing to use and train workers on safety and emergency response procedures,” the agency said.

Ultium also did not comply with federal safety standards for the use of personal protective equipment, including respirators, investigators found.

OSHA said it has issued the company a hazard alert letter, asking them to voluntarily reduce the buildup of metal dust and protect employees from dust exposure.

“Our commitment to safety is paramount, and we make it a point to work closely and collaboratively with state and federal officials, as well as our local union leadership, to ensure we are operating in accordance with all relevant regulations,” Ultium spokesperson Katie Burdette said in a statement.

“We take safety seriously and have requested a hearing with OSHA, which is the next step in this process,” she continued. “We look forward to a constructive dialogue with OSHA and hope to resolve these issues quickly and reinforce our commitment to fostering a safety-first mindset among all Ultium team members.”

OSHA said it currently has one open inspection at the Ultium plant following a fire on June 27. It also has three inquiries, including a report after a pressure gauge failed in August and resulted in a battery slurry leak that temporarily halted activity in part of the plant.

It has reportedly cited the Warren plant 11 times since it began battery cell production in August last year.

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4th Gear: Tesla Fights $230 Million In Legal Fees

Tesla is reportedly urging a judge in Delaware to reject $230 million in legal fees that have been requested by a team of shareholder attorneys who won a settlement in a direct pay dispute. The automaker wants the chief justice of the court to approve a fee of no more than $64 million. From Reuters:

The maker of electric vehicles called the fee request an “unwarranted windfall” that works out to an hourly rate of $10,690, one of the highest fee requests ever in Delaware’s Court of Chancery, a key venue for shareholder lawsuits.

[…]

The attorneys represented a Detroit police union pension plan that sued Tesla’s directors for excessive compensation during 2017 to 2020. Nearly all of the directors’ compensation comprised stock options and they only got paid if the stock rose. In recent years it swelled 10-fold.

Elon Musk’s $56 billion in compensation as Tesla’s chief executive was not part of this lawsuit. It is being challenged separately.

The 2020 lawsuit settled in July with the directors agreeing to return to Tesla $735 million as part of a $919 million agreement. The directors said their pay was fair and they only settled to remove the risk of litigation.

Attorneys reportedly want their 25 percent fee for the settlement with 12 directors. They include James Murdoch (the other Murdoch son) and Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison.

The case was brought as a so-called derivative lawsuit which benefits the company, rather than shareholders directly.

Tesla argued the shareholder’s attorneys exaggerated the value of the settlement, and by extension their requested fee, by pegging its value to the cost to directors rather than the benefit to the company. Tesla estimated its benefit from the deal was $295 million.

The difference in the two values boils down to the stock options. At the time of the July settlement the options were worth $458 million to the directors.

But the company cannot exercise the returned stock options. Instead, Tesla said in court papers that the benefit of getting the options back is reversing the accounting cost it recorded when they were issued, which was around $20 million.

Musk is reportedly not contributing to the settlement, and he didn’t receive any money for his role on the board.

Reverse: It’s Time To Try Again

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