Ford Shuts Strikers Out of Its Plant

Itar-TassWorkers protesting outside Ford's plant on Tuesday. The top sign reads "Striking is not extremism, it's our right."
Workers at Ford's plant near St. Petersburg began an indefinite strike Tuesday, as a dispute worsened between management and the plant's union over pay and conditions.

In a tough response to the strike, the U.S. carmaker denied strikers access to the plant in a possible bid to prevent a workers' occupation, as happened in a strike earlier this year, and insisted that no talks would be held with the union until the strike was over.

Riot police prevented hundreds of workers from entering the plant early Tuesday morning, a source close to the union said.

Tuesday's stoppage came after workers downed tools in a one-day warning strike Nov. 7. The union is demanding a 30 percent increase in pay to 28,000 rubles ($1,100) per month and other conditions.

Ford general director Theo Streit rejected the union's pay claim Tuesday and declined to say when the workers would be allowed back into the plant.

"They started the strike and it's for them to call it off," he said by telephone.

Union leader Alexei Etmanov said the union would stick to its plan and continue the strike. "We've stopped the plant," he said by telephone. "The management pushed people to strike."

The industrial action at Ford comes as inflation looks likely to top 11 percent by year end, eating into salary raises.

Etmanov said Ford could afford to raise wages as its cars are selling well in the country and it is on track to use more locally produced, cheaper parts.

In the first ten months of this year, Ford sold more than 136,000 cars in the country, a 70 percent increase over the same period last year, according to the Association of European Businesses. The Ford Focus, produced at the Leningrad region plant, is the country's best-selling foreign model, with more than 77,400 units sold from January through October.

"As of today, the economic situation at the plant demonstrates that it's absolutely possible to fulfill the workers' demands by way of constructive negotiations," Etmanov said in a statement posted on the union's web site Monday.

Ford spokeswoman Yekaterina Kulinenko said the 950 workers who had not taken part in the strike would receive two-thirds of their normal wages. She put the number of strikers at 700.

The strikers spent Tuesday picketing outside the plant and some of them played volleyball, Kulinenko said. Etmanov said the workers played football.

Kirill Chuiko, an automotive analyst with UralSib, said the company should negotiate, as the strike would cost it an estimated $4 million per day.

Streit said Ford had enough cars to supply its customers in Russia, but Kulinenko said some orders could possibly come late. She added that additional cars could come from Europe, if need be.

The management and workers were scheduled to hold talks on a new collective agreement next Monday, Kulinenko said, adding that management would not hold talks with the union during the strike.

Etmanov on Tuesday denied that the union and the management had agreed to hold talks.

In February, about 1,500 workers occupied the plant in a one-day strike, winning concessions.

Staff Writer Tim Wall contributed to this report.