THE former CEO of Ford issued a stark warning over a major issue that could see drivers paying thousands more for their cars.
According to Fields, none of these companies should bow to labor demands in ways that could leave them in a dire financial situation and at a competitive disadvantage.
“The automakers can’t plead poverty,” he told CNN on Wednesday.
“They will need to find a creative way to package a fair contract that rewards workers but do it in a way that doesn’t repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Fields pointed out that GM and Chrysler declared bankruptcy in 2009 during the Great Recession.
The United Auto Workers union is looking for major concessions from GM, Ford, and Stellantis, pushing for a 40 percent pay hike over four years.
Other demands are restoring cost of living increases, bringing back traditional pension plans, and restoring retiree health care coverage.
The contract UAW has with the companies expires at 11.59 ET on Thursday.
If a deal isn’t reached, a strike could begin as soon as the clock hits midnight on Friday.
There has never been a strike against all three major automakers at once.
Fields said he wasn’t advising current Ford CEO Jim Farley but said the companies “definitely” need to agree to pay hikes “well north” of increases in the past.
He referenced large-scale pay hikes won by unions for UPS, American Airlines, and West Coast dockworkers.
However, he cautioned that the companies should push back against non-wage demands from the UAW to avoid being left at a competitive disadvantage.
When asked if the union’s demands were too ambitious, Jim Farley said “We’ll see.”
“We’re still optimistic that we’ll get a deal, but there is a limit,” he said, adding that Ford made its most “generous offer in 80 years.”
Fields also has a warning to UAW: Be careful what you wish for.
“The automakers are going to be very rational about this. If this is what my cost per unit is here in the US — including labor — and it’s uncompetitive, I’m going to have to move it to where it’s more competitive, like Mexico,” he said.
“You don’t want the UAW to win the battle but lose the war.”
Ford’s plant in Chihuahua, Mexico is unionized and the workers recently negotiated a 8.2 percent raise.
UAW President Shawn Fain said, however, that a work stoppage would only hurt billionaires.
“In the last four years, the price of cars went up 30 percent,” he said.
“[Automakers’] CEO pay went up 40%. No one said a word. No one had any complaints about that but God forbid the workers ask for their fair share.”
Fields said he wasn’t offended by Fain’s words but believes he’s “quite misplaced” to think a work stoppage won’t be incredibly impactful.
“There will be lots of people hurt,” he said.