Labor Sec Tom Perez: 'Creative Labor-Management Partnerships Are Saving and Creating Jobs'

In 2007, the Ford Motor Co.’s plant in Louisville, Ky., was staring at an existential crisis. It was on the verge of being shuttered. The jobs there — jobs that sustained middle-class families and communities throughout Louisville — were this close to being sent to Mexico.

So what did Ford management and the United Auto Workers (UAW) do? Instead of turning on each other, they turned toward one another. They rolled up their sleeves and launched difficult but constructive negotiations. Ultimately, they hammered out a collective bargaining agreement that not only kept the doors open but restructured plant operations to make it one of the most advanced manufacturing facilities in the world.

They made safety a top priority. They empowered their workforce. And instead of losing jobs, they’ve added them in droves — from 900 employees to 4,400 and growing. And that doesn’t even capture the overall local economic impact. Ford estimates that for each job created at the plant, approximately 10 more jobs are generated in the Louisville-area economy at stores, restaurants and elsewhere.

Today the plant is a model of innovation, efficiency and flexibility. It is more productive and profitable than ever before. Morale is high. Assembly line workers are well-trained in sophisticated automated systems essential to modern auto production. Cars and trucks that people around the world want to buy are flying off the line — a new Escape every 55 seconds (one of which my family bought last year).

I was in Louisville two weeks ago to visit this state-of-the-art facility and hear firsthand the powerful story of its remarkable turnaround. I was so impressed that I invited them to Washington to participate in a White House summit highlighting labor-management collaboration in a host of areas — air traffic control, health care, construction apprenticeships, education in Montgomery County, Md., and more.

Across the country, creative labor-management partnerships are saving and creating jobs, keeping businesses competitive, growing the middle class and helping more Americans climb ladders of opportunity.

The key is rejecting the false choices that have too often stifled progress. We don’t have to choose, for example, between job growth and job safety. Businesses don’t have to choose between serving shareholders and paying workers a fair wage. And we don’t have to choose between being pro-union or pro-management.

We can have both, if people of good faith are committed to embracing a culture of cooperation, transparency and trust. In a tough economy like this one, this is the only sensible strategy. If we’re going to complete this recovery and unleash the economy’s full potential, we have no choice but to work together.

That’s the lesson of the Ford story. Marty Mulloy, their vice president of labor affairs, said at the White House today: “In 2006, we lost $17 billion…this was a very troubled company.” But as he explained, now Ford and the auto industry are coming back. Vehicles once manufactured overseas are now being brought back to the U.S.

And, as Mulloy emphasized today: “We couldn’t have done this without the UAW.”


This has been reposted from the AFL-CIO.

This post originally appeared at Work in Progress.


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