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UAW surrenders pay for security at Ford Hamburg plant safe from planned closures

Workers at the Ford Motor Co. plant in Hamburg will vote in about a week on a proposed new contract that union officials say strengthens the ailing company.

"This [contract] will help Ford get back market share they lost over the years," said Kevin Donovan, assistant director of the United Auto Workers' Region 9. If passed, the four-year agreement will reduce Ford's costs, he said.

Ford's Buffalo Stamping Plant employs about 1,000 union autoworkers.

The details of the agreement weren't released, but Donovan confirmed that it follows the outline of pacts at General Motors and Chrysler LLC. Those deals created a lower-wage tier for new hires and shifted retiree health care costs to a trust fund.

The plant in Hamburg isn't among those being considered for shutdown to reduce idle capacity at Ford, Donovan said.

Production worker Michael Muszynski said his hopes for the contract are simple: "Settle it soon." The stamping plant is busy, but he noted that autoworkers at GM and Chrysler both briefly went on strike before ratifying contracts. "I figure we'll follow suit," the Lackawanna resident said.

Approval of the contract would cap the UAW's contract process with the three Detroit-based automakers and insure labor peace for the domestic auto industry, a major component of Western New York's manufacturing base.

About 54,000 Ford workers in the United States are eligible to vote on the pact.

The agreement preserves the company's existing assembly plants, the Associated Press reported, citing unnamed sources. Ford has listed 10 plants slated to close and planned to shutter six others. Some stamping or powertrain plants may still be earmarked for shutdown, but Buffalo is not threatened, Donovan said.

Ford will make additional investments in U.S. plants in return for a lower starting wage of about $14, the AP reported. The average UAW worker now earns nearly $29 an hour.

Patrick Heraty, a business professor at Hilbert College, predicted that approval may be easier than the close and contentious vote at Chrysler.

"It appears a collaborative tone has been set between Ford and the UAW," he said.

The automaker lost $12.6 billion last year, and predictions are that this year and next will also be difficult.

The union probably agreed to easier terms than at GM -- such as taking less cash in the health care trust fund -- because of Ford's financial condition, Heraty said. "That's probably why [the UAW] wanted to negotiate with them last," he said.

Charles Gangarossa, president of UAW Local 897 in Hamburg, remained in Detroit on Monday after participating in the bargaining that brought about the tentative agreement. UAW Buffalo Area Director Scott Adams was also in Detroit Monday to attend meetings on the agreement with top union leaders.

Concerns have long shadowed the local plant, whose distance from Ford's core operations in the Midwest raises shipping costs. But in recent years, the site has invested substantially in new equipment to make parts for the popular Edge crossover vehicle. It has also been chosen to supply parts for Ford's coming "Flex" people-mover vehicle.


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