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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ford Vote Could Avert Planned Strike

Itar-TassA prostester picketing Ford's plant in St. Petersburg on Monday in support of workers demanding higher salaries.
A last-minute vote by workers at Ford's plant in the Leningrad region could avert a strike planned for Wednesday, company and union officials said Monday.

A senior Ford executive said he hoped a collective-bargaining agreement, including wage increases of between 14 percent and 20 percent, would be reached within "one or two weeks."

"It sounds like [the strike] won't take place," said Theo Streit, the plant's general director. He called on the union to continue negotiating without putting "a gun to our heads."

The 1,100 union members at the plant plan to vote Tuesday afternoon on an offer from Ford that could resolve the dispute.

But the union's leader, Alexei Etmanov, said a full-blown strike -- the plant's first -- would go ahead Wednesday if demands on a range of issues, including safety, hours and outsourcing, were not met. Etmanov said he did not share Streit's optimism about the dispute being resolved.

"It's not about the money," Etmanov said. Workers were more concerned about securing fixed working hours, a ban on outsourcing and reducing safety risks, he said.

The company is offering workers a pay raise of between 14 percent and 20 percent, interest-free loans and a one-off loyalty bonus of 10,000 rubles ($380) for those who have worked at the plant for more than five years, among other concessions. The strike threat comes after talks between management and the union ended without agreement in December. Last year, after several work-to-rule actions, the union won pay raises of between 14 percent and 17.5 percent, in addition to other concessions.

Sergei Khramov, head of SotsProf, an umbrella organization of independent trade unions that includes the one at Ford, said the union would most likely stage a one-hour strike to make its point.

"Ford, thank God, has been regularly ramping up sales of its products in Russia," Khramov said, noting that the number of employees and their wages were unchanged.

Yekaterina Kulinenko, a spokeswoman for Ford in Moscow, said the company was seeking a local court injunction to have the strike declared illegal. The first hearing was due Monday evening.

Todd Nissen, a spokesman for Ford in Europe, said Monday that a strike threat at the Russian plant was "not an issue for the rest of Ford Europe."

If the union accepts the company's current offer, the collective agreement would enter force from March 1.