Some Ford Workers Skeptical Of Proposed Contract

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Members of the United Auto Workers union finish voting Tuesday on a new contract with Ford that would mean nearly 6,000 new jobs in the U.S. Ford and the UAW both say it's a good deal for the company and its union employees, but many workers remain unconvinced

In its 87 years, Ford's Chicago assembly plant on the city's South Side has made an array of Fords, from to the Model A to the Model T to the latest Ford Taurus.

Orlando Mendoza, who has worked at Ford for 19 years, said he opposes the proposed contract.

"I don't really like it. I voted no, so I don't really think it's fair for what they're offering us and what they've taken away from us," he said. "They've taken away our cost of living and they don't want to give us any raises, and, you know, inflation is at 4 percent a year and we're not even getting anything compared to that, so we're actually making less now than we did five to 10 years ago."

The contract doesn't bring back cost-of-living adjustments. Essentially, instead of fixed pay raises, veteran workers get bonuses and profit sharing. It raises Ford's labor cost by only about 1 percent.

John Weems, who works at the plant, also voted no.

"The thing is, we haven't had a raise in six years, so, you know, where does it end? Ford is making money hand over fist, and we [are] ... trying to make a living," he said. "I mean, I'm at the highest scale but I've been here 44 years so."

There are two pay scales: One for workers like Mendoza and Weems, and another for new workers who will see their pay go up about $3.50 an hour, far less than veteran workers.

Angelique Keyes, who started at Ford a few months ago, said the contract isn't perfect but she voted for it anyway.

"I personally had to vote for me. I couldn't vote for what everybody else was saying," she said. "That was my point of view. I've been out of work for two years. I want to continue to work."

Union leaders are busy trying to persuade workers to say yes, and they wouldn't make themselves available for comment until the totals are in. Ford released a statement calling the agreement fair to its employees. A Ford spokeswoman said the tide is turning toward ratification.

Kristin Dziczek, an analyst with the Center for Automotive Research, said the reason for the discontent is high expectations. She said workers made concessions when times were bad and expected to get them back.

"There's a lot of virtue, I guess, or perceived virtue in being the company that did not take a government bailout and did not go through bankruptcy," she said.

That virtue came at price, Dziczek said. Despite the company's current profitability, it has a lot of debt. Things have also fundamentally changed in the car business.

"There's a Bruce Springsteen line: 'Those jobs are gone and they ain't comin' back.' But they're gone and it's going to take a really long time to get back to the industry that we had just, you know, five or six years ago," she said.

Dziczek said a healthy amount of discontent means one side didn't pull a fast one on the other.

NPR's Sonari Glinton worked at Ford's Chicago assembly plant for three summers when he was in college 15 years ago.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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