Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ford, UAW reach tentative labor deal

DETROIT — Union leaders from Ford's factories voted Tuesday to recommend that members approve a deal to lower the automaker's labor costs to match those of its Detroit rivals.
The deal, which runs until 2011, gives workers a bonus if they ratify the agreement and guarantees new vehicles for five assembly plants. But it also bans strikes over wages or benefits, freezes entry-level wages and changes work rules to require some skilled-trade employees to do more than one job.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said Tuesday that the deal brings Ford Motor Co. on par with Chrysler Group LLC and General Motors Co., which were given concessions as they headed into bankruptcy protection earlier this year.

He conceded that talks with Ford, the only Detroit automaker to avoid bankruptcy and government aid, have been tough because of its relative success. Ford mortgaged assets several years ago to borrow $24 billion for its restructuring, a decision that helped it stay out of bankruptcy court.

"It's been a delicate balance throughout this process. We want Ford to do well, and we knew as they continue to improve that it would make ratification a little more difficult," Gettelfinger said. "But at the same time, this is not really a concessionary agreement. It's got more positives for our members than it has negatives."

About 250 local leaders attended the meeting. Gettelfinger said the vote to recommend the agreement was "close to unanimous."

Local chapters to vote

Local leaders will try to sell the deal, which changes the terms of a 2007 labor agreement, to Ford's 41,000 UAW members. Gettelfinger said there is no deadline for local votes to be held, but the sale could be tough because of opposition to concessions. Voting probably will begin this week.

Gary Walkowicz, a bargaining committeeman at a large Ford pickup truck factory in Dearborn, Mich., said many union members are against the no-strike clause because it gives up the union's biggest bargaining chip in the next round of contract talks.

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