The monthlong strike by the United Automobile Workers and the union’s demands for substantial pay and benefits increases risk damaging the U.S. auto industry, hurting its ability to compete against nonunion foreign rivals, the executive chairman of Ford Motor said on Monday.
The fight should not be seen as the U.A.W. against Ford, or its crosstown rivals, General Motors and Stellantis, said William C. Ford Jr., the great-grandson of the company’s founder Henry Ford, noting that at times U.A.W. officials have referred to the automakers as the union’s “enemy.”
“It should be Ford and the U.A.W. against Toyota, Honda, Tesla and all the Chinese companies that want to enter our home market,” Mr. Ford said at the company’s Rouge plant in Dearborn, Mich.
“Toyota, Honda, Tesla and the others are loving the strike, because they know the longer it goes on, the better it is for them,” the executive chairman said. “They will win, and all of us will lose.”
Mr. Ford’s remarks alluded to a period several decades ago when the U.A.W. won increasingly rich contracts that were later seen by many industry experts as having hobbled the three Michigan automakers in the face of competition from Japanese and European carmakers. Ford came to the brink of collapse, and G.M. and Chrysler — now part of Stellantis — had to seek bankruptcy protection after the 2008 financial crisis.
“Ford’s ability to invest in the future isn’t just a talking point,” Mr. Ford said. “It is the absolute lifeblood of our company. And if we lose it, we will lose to the competition. Many jobs will be lost.”
In a statement, the U.A.W. president, Shawn Fain, said Mr. Ford should “stop playing games” and meet the union’s demands, or “we’ll close the Rouge for him.” Mr. Fain added that the U.A.W. was not fighting the company but “corporate greed.”
“If Ford wants to be the all-American auto company, they can pay all-American wages and benefits,” Mr. Fain said. “Workers at Tesla, Toyota, Honda and others are not the enemy — they’re the U.A.W. members of the future.”
Ford, G.M. and Stellantis have been negotiating new labor contracts with the U.A.W. since July. Over the past month, the union has called on workers at a few plants to go on strike. The action has idled three Ford plants, two G.M. factories and one Stellantis plant. Workers at 38 G.M. and Stellantis spare-parts warehouses are also on strike.
The strategy is intended to increase pressure on the companies to meet the union’s demands for significantly higher wages, shorter working hours and expanded pensions, and to end a system that pays new hires just over half of the top U.A.W. wage of $32 an hour.
The companies have offered wage increases of more than 20 percent over the next four years and certain other measures in line with the union’s demands, but the U.A.W. is pressing for greater concessions.
Last week, the union called for a strike by 8,700 workers at Ford’s Kentucky truck plant in Louisville, the company’s largest.
Ford executives said last week that the company had made a record offer to the union and that sweetening the deal would hurt the automaker’s ability to invest in electric vehicles and other new models and technologies.
Mr. Ford, who has had a role in every round of negotiations with the U.A.W. since 1982, said the talks had reached “a crossroads” and warned that labor contracts that burdened the automakers with heavy costs could affect the U.S. economy.
“The price of failure should be clear to everyone,” he said. “Let’s come together and reach an agreement, so we can take the fight to the real competition.”