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Teaming Up to Compete

Boss doesn't bite labor union - that's news. The Ford Motor Company even defies antiunion suppliers to maintain its cordial relations with the United Auto Workers (UAW), according to The Wall Street Journal. But don't unions make an American company uncompetitive in the world? Not in the gospel according to Ford, which says much of its success in making plants competitive is due to its UAW partnership. With hourly wages accounting for only 15 percent of a vehicle's cost, Ford reasons the gains in efficiency, quality, and ideas from employee satisfaction are well worth sticking with the union.

A similar cooperative approach has been noted at Southwest Airlines, contrasted to American Airlines's adversarial relationship with its pilots' union, which led to the strike swiftly ended by President Clinton. No doubt unions sometimes push harder for employees than some companies will tolerate. But there's hope for more adversaries to become partners when a company as strong as Ford - and as symbolic of American enterprise - chooses to achieve and maintain a mutually supportive labor-management team.

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