Ford Motors Executive Chairman Bill Ford said in an interview last week that the United Auto Workers Union and their president, Ron Gettelfinger, helped "save" the company during the recession, while other automakers like GM were going bankrupt.
"When we got into a really tough period, I sat down with Ron and I said, 'You have to help me save the Ford Motor Company so we didn't have to go through bankruptcy, so we didn't have to get a federal bailout,'" Ford said on CNBC's Squawk Box
. "And he did that."
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Ford credits Gettelfinger and the UAW with helping balance the books during the company's "darkest hour," adding that the union helped the industry as a whole "get back on its feet."
The UAW reconfigured its health-care costs and markedly improved manufacturing efficiency and performance, Ford said.
During that time, Ford's biggest competitor, GM, went bankrupt and was subjected to a government takeover. The years-long saga of debt-restructuring has also been plagued with lawsuits complicated by the bailout.
As part of the terms of the bailout, GM was shielded from all claims dating before 2009. Many are now asking the government to rescind the immunity, as it's recently come to light that the company knowingly sold vehicles with faulty ignition switches. In 2006, two young women were killed in a Chevy Cobalt crash after the engine shut off and airbags did not deploy. Their families are among those working to get the immunity removed.
GM finally shook off government control this past December but still face many lawsuits.
"It's a tough situation for everyone involved obviously. One thing we do whenever one of our competitors goes through something like this, we try to learn everything we can from it. We review our own processes to make sure that we're robust," Ford said.
Asked about the recent failed effort to unionize Volkswagen employees in Tennessee, Ford said he wasn't surprised to see it go the way it did.
"There's a long history of organizing that didn't go well in the South," he said.
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