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Ford, UAW Have Tentative Contract Agreement


DEARBORN, Mich. — After 40 hours of continuous bargaining, the United Auto Workers union and Ford Motor Co. reached a tentative agreement late Wednesday on a new contract that will keep the auto maker's 96,000 hourly workers on the job.

Few details of the agreement were released except that it covers a traditional three-year term. The two sides had considered a longer, six-year contract but could not agreed to terms acceptable to both.

Union and company officials expressed satisfaction with the contract, which addresses a variety of complex issues that include health benefits, lower starting pay for new employees and contracting for parts with outside, non-union suppliers.

"We are confident that we have reached an agreement that continues and improves the protection by our members and which will sustain the momentum of the domestic auto industry turnaround," UAW President Owen Bieber said in a brief press conference at Ford's headquarters here.

Jack Hall, Ford's chief negotiator, said, "We are pleased to have this tentative agreement and we look forward to the ratification."

The UAW will present the package to its bargaining council in the next couple of days. If approved, it will then be submitted to the rank and file for a vote through the union's 43 locals.

The contract will serve as a pattern for similar agreements the union will try to hammer out with General Motors and Chrysler. The contracts will ultimately cover 400,000 workers and 390,000 retirees.

The UAW is likely to go to Chrysler next for a contract. Chrysler on Tuesday tentatively agreed to a new three-year contract with the Canadian Auto Workers union. That contract included higher wages, greater pension benefits and an agreement to hire 600 more workers at the Windsor minivan plant.

The toughest bargaining may be at GM, which is struggling to regain profitability after several years of horrendous losses. GM, which is in the midst of laying off 74,000 workers and closing nearly two dozen plants, is likely to seek concessions from the contract agreed to by Ford.

Negotiations between the Big Three and the UAW began in late June. The union picked Ford in late August as its bargaining target. Union leaders noted then that Ford was the strongest of Detroit's auto makers and was likely to be less insistent on concessions by the UAW.

Both sides expressed optimism that a new contract could be reached by Tuesday night's deadline, but it passed without an agreement. The union extended the old contract on an hour-by-hour basis, telling its members to keep working.

Among the major issues under discussion were health care and job security.

Ford said it wanted hourly workers to begin picking up a share of their health costs, which had increased 13% annually over the past two decades. The UAW said it would strike rather than agree to deductibles and co-payments on health care benefits.

Although neither side would address health care specifically, Hall said the contract provides some relief from escalating health care costs for the company.

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