Will Ford pact set pattern? Not likely, say unionists

Union leaders outside the auto industry say the cost-cutting labor pact with Ford was a good thing for that company and its workers - but not necessarily for others.

Douglas A. Fraser, president of the United Automobile Workers (UAW), arrived late at the recent meeting of AFL-CIO leaders in Florida, but he was greeted with lavish praise. His accomplishment in negotiating an ''important'' settlement with a company in deep financial troubles (Ford lost $1.06 billion in 1981) was clearly respected.

However, most federation leaders described the settlement as ''highly specialized'' and unlikely to set a pattern for other major bargaining this year.

Their attitude was predictable. All labor leaders expect employers to seek concessions in contract talks, and no union is willing to commit itself, in advance, to conceding anything.

The UAW deal with Ford appeared to be receiving strong rank-and-file support in a ratification vote to be completed this week. The new contract is expected to reduce Ford's labor costs -- now $21.50 an hour per worker -- by about $2 an hour over the next 30 months. That will save the firm about $1 billion over that period of time. The contract takes effect March 1 if approved.

Meanwhile, the American Motors Corporation, which lost $136.6 million in 1981 , called on the UAW to renegotiate its contract. The firm wants the union's help in setting up an employee-investment plan that would contribute to a $1 billion product development fund.

Under the proposal, workers would invest about $150 million in future wage increases and benefits improvements. Their investment would be returned, with 10 percent interest, beginning in 1984.

The union's American Motors Council will meet within the next week to decide whether to open talks with AMC.

The company's president, Jose J. Dedeurwaerder, says, ''The UAW knows very well that we have to be competitive. If we get this help from the UAW, we will not be forced to delay any new products. That's the only way to maintain jobs and to recall some people who have been laid off.''

The UAW is less likely to revive early contract talks with General Motors, despite an invitation to do so by GM's chairman, Roger B. Smith. Mr. Fraser said GM was ''presumptuous'' in hoping that the UAW would return to bargaining before July, the normal time for the start of negotiations on a new contract to replace the current one that expires Sept. 14.

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