By Bernie Woodall
DETROIT (Reuters) - A vote by Ford Motor Co union workers to authorize a strike if negotiations between the United Auto Workers and Ford turn sour is well on its way to passage, union officials said on Wednesday.
United Auto Workers at five of Ford's biggest plants have overwhelmingly voted this week to authorize a strike. The lowest rate of affirmative votes at the five plants was 97 percent.
The latest two results were released on Wednesday from workers at UAW Local 600, which represents about 3,600 production workers at the Dearborn Truck Plant in Michigan and UAW Local 2000, which represents about 1,750 workers at the Ohio Assembly Plant, officials from the local union halls said.
All of the Ford plants that collectively have about 41,000 UAW-represented workers will have voted by the end of this week.
Three UAW negotiating teams are separately meeting with Ford, General Motors Co and Chrysler Group LLC bargaining teams in an effort to reach contracts to replace current pacts that expire on September 14.
Once those contracts are reached, workers at the three automakers must ratify them. The contracts are expected to be for four years.
Ford is the only Detroit automaker vulnerable to a strike. Chrysler and GM workers gave up the right to strike in this round of talks as part of the 2009 U.S. government bailouts of the two companies.
Bob King, UAW president, said this week he hopes to avoid a strike at Ford, but he also said relations with the automaker would not likely be damaged if workers voted for a strike.
"This is just something we do during each negotiation," said Jeff Wright, president of UAW Local 249 which represents about 3,650 workers at the Kansas City Assembly Plant in Missouri. "It's pretty routine."
The vote this week at Kansas City, the second-largest Ford plant in terms of production workers, was 99.4 percent (3,049 to 18) in favor of the strike authorization, Wright said.
Wright said the vote shows "no indication" of how UAW Local 249 members would vote once Ford and the UAW national negotiating team reach a proposed contract.
In a separate interview, UAW Local 862 President Todd Dunn, said that, while routine, the strike authorization vote gives the UAW's national negotiating team a stick in case one is needed.
Dunn and UAW Local 862 represent workers at two big plants, including the largest Ford plant in terms of number of workers, the Kentucky Truck Plant, which has about 3,825 hourly production employees. The local also represents about 1,100 workers at the Louisville Assembly Plant.
Both plants are in Louisville, Kentucky.
Chrysler is majority-owned and is managed by Fiat SpA.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall; editing by Andre Grenon)