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DEARBORN - On June 20, 1941, Ford Motor Company signed its first collective bargaining agreement with the UAW-CIO.
It was a long journey before that first agreement was signed. From the onset, Henry Ford had bristled at the UAW’s activities at Ford sites and resorted to covert activities to crush the union before it took root, which culminated in the violent “Battle of the Overpass” at the Rouge site on May 26, 1937.
Edsel Ford pleaded with his father to negotiate with the union, but Henry refused and eventually the National Labor Relations Board pursued an unfair labor practice complaint against the company. In December 1937, the company was found in violation of the Wagner Act and was instructed to stop any interference with Ford employees trying to unionize.
The case was appealed and reached the U.S. Supreme Court in February 1941, and the high court declined to review the case.
By May 1941, workers made their intentions clear with a vote in favor of union representation.
Henry announced he would rather close the site before he would ever sign a contract with the union. However, that changed once it was clear that if the site closed, the government would simply assume control of the company. Additionally, Henry’s wife Clara, on whose counsel he relied, threatened to leave him after 53 years of marriage if he shuttered the site and refused to bring the issue to a peaceful conclusion.
Negotiations for the contract then began on June 1, 1941, by June 18 a formal contract was ready and company representatives signed the document in Washington, D.C on June 20.
On the morning of June 21, the contract was front page news across the country.
Noted company President Edsel Ford, “As the company views the situation, no half measures will be effective. We cannot work out one scheme of things for some of our workmen and another scheme of the remainder. So we have decided to go the whole way.”
Under the agreement, which was for one year and covered all Ford plants in the United States, Ford granted a union shop for all workers throughout the country, with the exception of certain work classifications. Additionally, it agreed that all new manufacturing employees must join the UAW if not already members. Ford also agreed to deduct initiation fees, monthly dues and special assessments from pay envelopes.
As for wages, the company promised to adjust them to the highest level of a competitor selected by the UAW, which chose GM for production workers and other corporations for employees in glass, rubber, cement and additional specialties.
In return, the UAW consented to drop or settle out of court all cases pending under the company for violations of the Wagner Act or for personal assault. A procedure for adjudicating grievances also was created.
Although many historians believe Henry felt the union contract to be his biggest business defeat, it was considered a victory for American workers and milestone in labor events.
*Background for this story was sourced from Ford: Decline and Rebirth and The Ford Century