DEARBORN, MI – United Auto Workers union Vice President Bob King confirms concession talks have begun with Ford Motor Co. but frowns over the prospect of negotiating a no-strike clause like the one enjoyed by General Motors Corp. and Chrysler Group LLC.

“The great thing about Ford is they never held a gun to our head and we never held a gun to their head,” King says on the sidelines of an event here to announce Ford will receive $5.9 billion in government loans to retool its assembly plants to build fuel-efficient vehicles.

“I think the partnership and relationship with Ford is most important,” he says.

Striking remains one of the UAW’s most powerful bargaining tools, and many experts think GM and Chrysler could now be at a competitive advantage to Ford. Last week, Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally confirmed the auto maker was in talks with the UAW about a no-strike clause, which GM and Chrysler won from the union before the auto makers filed for bankruptcy.

But King reiterated recent comments from UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, who has said unique situations at each of the Detroit Three require different approaches to ensure their competitiveness. Most notably, Ford has staved off bankruptcy and, until today, taxpayer loans by loading up on billions of dollars in capital prior to the milestone new-vehicle sales downturn.

“We have moved dramatically to make all of these companies viable and profitable,” King says. “We were blessed with Ford, they got the loans early enough so we didn’t have to go through the governmental process.

“We have always been and will remain committed to making sure all of our companies are competitive and profitable. We’re doing that every day.”

King stops short of saying whether the UAW will reopen its 2007 contract with Ford to make concessions to the auto maker.

“I’ve been involved in more negotiation since I got this position than I ever thought I would be,” he says. “In our membership and in plant management and in local unions we’re going to continue to work together.

“Whether that means a new contract I don’t know at this point. But most importantly what we’re doing every day is working together and keeping jobs safe in America. And we understand, in order to do that, we’ve got to be part of making profitable vehicles,” King says.

King says a sense of urgency exists, dating back to the health-care concessions the UAW made to the Detroit Three in 2005, as well as additional givebacks in 2007 and again this year. The latest round of talks saw UAW members agree to forgo a $3,500 payment in lieu of sacrificed vacation time, as well as a $1,700 Christmas bonus.

“We have stepped up over and over again,” he tells Ward’s. “It’s a change in culture, working every day to be profitable and to keep jobs in our communities and in the United States.”

King also says his membership looks forward to helping Ford and its cross-town rivals build a profitable small car in the U.S., beginning next year with the launch of the next-generation Ford Focus C-segment car in Wayne, MI.

In the past, small cars built in the U.S. have been notoriously unprofitable for Detroit, partly because their labor costs were higher than those of their Asian rivals with non-union domestic operations.

Earlier this month, GM announced it would build a new compact car in the U.S. at one of its idled assembly plants, but said the chosen site would require a unique labor agreement.

“I don’t look at it so much as a question of us giving (Ford) something, but a question of whether there is a partnership,” King says.

“Everyone is on board saying we are going to produce the best quality possible for the consumer, the best product for the best price, and profitably for Ford. We’re really committed to that. We will make small cars profitable in the U.S.”

jamend@wardsauto.com