On October 3, 1961, the members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) wanted better wages and benefits, making a statement by going on strike at different Ford plants across the country. This was the first time that the company faced such a situation. If the founder himself was to have his way, he would have not accepted the union’s existence within his company. Among the three Big Automakers, Ford was the very last to have recognized the union, albeit, grudgingly at that.
A month before the said event, GM also faced the same dilemma with its workers where the company was obliged to provide its employees with better wages and benefits. Whether the 120,000 workers of Ford were protesting against the economic terms of their contract or not, the company officials knew that they needed to follow suit or suffer the consequence of losing their employees to the competition. Meanwhile, UAW leader Walter Reuther during an interview with The New York times stated that company was not being just with its wage remuneration to its employees. Ford representatives and Union members tried to reach an agreement before the October 3 deadline. Both parties discussed things like pay and pension. Ford gave in to a seven cents increase for every hour of work rendered (autoworkers earned $2.85 an hour) and also agreed to a yearly increase in pensions. Aside from these, workers were also awarded the following benefits: cost-of-living allowances, fully funded health insurance, supplemental unemployment benefits, and new short–work-week benefits where a worker will be paid 65% of his regular pay for every hour under 40 that he was not asked to render services.
The non-economic issues on the other hand were non-negotiable for the company. The company officials insisted that production standards and required speed of moving assembly lines must be met. The company officials also drew a line on the number of Ford-paid union staffer for each of their plants as well as on the proposed minimum wage rate for the 3,000 steelworkers in its Rive Rouge factory in Dearborn, Michigan. While the company was willing to pay higher wages for its current workers, the new hires will have lower wages on the basis that this was a way to leverage competition against non-union steelmakers that paid lower wage rates.
Except for its 25 local bargaining units, a clear-cut agreement was reached on October 11, a little more than a week after the union members went on strike. Those that were still on the protest further negotiated benefit deals. The demands were varied for individual plants. These included the likes of improved facilities (parking lots, cafeteria), seniority policies, overtime rotation, allowance for washup time, and procedure for job postings. The locals returned one by one to work, signing up a contract with the company once again. Only one Ford plant was on strike by October 19, a stamping plant in Walton Hills, Ohio. This facility was responsible for the fabrication of fenders and side panels for most of the Ford line of cars. Walton Hills and the company had a final agreement on October 20 which allowed the company to resume normal operations.