In addition to thousands of early production 2021 Ford F-150 pickups being stockpiled in parking lots around Detroit Metro Airport for a quality review, a steady stream of the new vehicles is being delivered to a site near the Flat Rock Assembly Plant for installation of seat belts and to fix other issues, the Free Press has learned.
The work is not being done by UAW members based at the Downriver plant, which builds the Mustang. Those workers noted their hours had even been cut in recent weeks.
Vans and buses filled with other workers have been seen arriving and departing a Ford site on Vreeland Road across from the Flat Rock plant as UAW members at Flat Rock wonder what’s going on. The vans are shuttling drivers.
“I’ve seen charter buses, like you take to the Lions game. It’s crazy,” Scott Sawatzke, a UAW team leader and Ford employee for 33 years, told the Free Press.
In recent days, F-150s have been driven to the site by individual drivers and also have been spotted on truck haulers. Ford confirmed Wednesday that workers in the two buildings across from the assembly plant, where quality checks are being made, are not union members.
“Ford is proud to employ more UAW workers than any other automaker. We value our UAW workforce and, in this case, need them focused on building the Mustang,” said Kelli Felker, Ford spokeswoman.
In response to an inquiry from the Free Press on Wednesday, officials at the labor union’s international headquarters in Detroit said they were investigating the situation.
Gerald Kariem, vice president and director of the UAW Ford Department, said, “We are engaged with the company to fix this situation immediately.”
UAW spokesman Brian Rothenberg said, “The UAW continues to object to nonunion third parties in these instances. We continue to look into the issues at this facility and continue to believe this should be UAW member work.”
Ford confirmed that trucks are being taken to the site, which includes the Troy Design and Manufacturing (TDM) facility, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ford. It is one of two buildings across from the plant where nonunion workers are doing the quality review. It was unclear how many people are doing the nonunion work.
“Our UAW workforce in two other plants are building as many new F-150 trucks as we can to meet customer demand,” Felker said. “As part of our commitment to delivering high-quality vehicles, we are conducting final quality inspections on trucks built before dealer shipments started last month to ensure they meet the quality expectations of our customers. The vehicles at the locations you referenced are among those early builds.”
Meanwhile, Ford is using UAW members to do quality review repair work on F-150s at the Dearborn Truck Plant, Felker said.
Trucks being built now are shipping directly to dealers, she noted. The number of trucks in the stockpile is dwindling as quality inspections are completed.
“What I’ve seen with my eyeballs, they were installing seat belts, fixing trim that didn’t fit, refitting doors, changing harnesses out, doing some electrical work,” Sawatzke said of the work in Flat Rock. “When you’ve got a new car, you strip the car interior and put in all new harnesses. You don’t splice wires on an $80,000 pickup or any new vehicle for that matter.”
But Felker said the 2021 F-150 quality review work in Flat Rock includes removing trim to replace seat belts and conducting software updates. There are no fixes involving wiring harnesses, electrical repair or door adjustments, she said.
It looks like long hours are being devoted to the F-150 repair work, according to UAW members. “Around the clock,” Sawatzke said.
Post-production modifications are unrelated to supply chain disruption caused by COVID-19, Ford confirmed.
Brake checks, quality review
UAW members said they lost access to the buildings across from the plant, where they’d go get parts and tools, just before Thanksgiving. That’s when they saw F-150 work really begin.
Sawatzke was a team leader in the Mod center, where UAW members applied stripes and mounted carbon fiber wheels on high-end Mustangs. The Mod center is next to the TDM building.
Over the summer, Ford installed test rollers, which allow for brake checks, and other equipment in the buildings across from the plant. It was a big investment, UAW members said.
“The F-150s are packed everywhere down here at our Mod Center across the street. It’s a constant flow of trucks,” said a UAW member who was not authorized to speak publicly. “I’m not sure what the issues are, but I know that they have a test roller set up, paint repair, water leak repair, and electrical repair. And our plant is not getting any of the work to my knowledge.”
All of this is equipment companies use for quality review.
UAW members told the Free Press they love working for Ford and would not want to say or do anything damaging, they just don’t understand why they seem to be getting no information on the repair work.
Meanwhile, Ford dealers around the country await delivery of the 2021 F-150. The bestselling F-Series is so lucrative that it’s essentially a company within a company, providing billions in revenue. This redesign and launch is critical to the financial strength of Ford.
On Monday, the Free Press spent two hours photographing images of the situation in Flat Rock, as a stream of F-150s went in and out of the parking area.
In addition to F-150s being held at airport sites and Flat Rock, a UAW member reported Tuesday seeing another large number of F-150s stored in a parking lot at an American Axle site off Holbrook Avenue in Hamtramck.
“They’re fenced in,” said the factory worker who has worked for Ford for more than a decade. “That parking lot must be half a mile long. It’s packed.”
Ford confirmed Wednesday that the American Axle site is also being used to hold vehicles for quality review.
UAW members said they take pride in working on the F-150s and hope they’ll be included in repair plans.
“When Ford was hurting, they had no problem coming to the worker for concessions to help get the business back together,” Sawatzke said. “They’re not using Ford workers. People need the work and they’re getting sent home. They’re not having a good Christmas.”
Ford Explorer rescue
The Flat Rock plant is closed from Dec. 17 to Jan. 3 for the holidays. However, UAW members have worked through summer and winter breaks when needed.
Kenny Tomalak, UAW chairman of the Flat Rock plant, couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.
Factory workers based in Flat Rock played a key role in fixing new Ford Explorers a year ago when they were shipped to Michigan from Chicago after a troubled launch. UAW members worked on repairs for months.
Ford brought people from Michigan Assembly, Dearborn Rouge and Dearborn Engine, UAW members said. They worked long hours until January.
The Explorer launch debacle, first reported by the Free Press in September 2019, occurred under former CEO Jim Hackett and damaged Ford financials. Joe Hinrichs, a widely respected executive who oversaw manufacturing operations, retired shortly after.
The company never revealed specifically whether the problems were related to early product development shortcuts or manufacturing issues. There were issues with the Lincoln Aviator and the Police Interceptor, too.
Ford CEO Jim Farley, who took the helm Oct. 1, has said publicly he intends to reduce warranty and repair costs that have spiraled in recent years.
UAW gets standby notice
In late September, the UAW plant chairman at Flat Rock notified workers in a memo that if the F-150 launch “doesn’t go well,” the factory workers would be on the list for repair. “This is all in preparation for the worst case scenario.”
The F-150 is built at Dearborn Truck as well as Kansas City Assembly in Claycomo, Missouri.
The Free Press confirmed earlier this month that thousands of F-150s were being stockpiled in private parking lots around Metro Airport.
Ford spokesman Said Deep explained then the trucks were being checked.
He said such quality reviews may indicate the need for things like software updates or parts adjustments, but he didn’t provide detail on these trucks.
Customers who have already taken delivery of the new pickups have raved about them while dealers’ lists of interested potential buyers grow. Reviewers have praised the all-new F-150.