The future of Ford Motor Co.'s plant in Hamburg will be on firmer ground under a new contract that is gaining wide support from its union workers across the country.
The metal stamping plant on Route 5 will make parts for an undisclosed new vehicle under the proposed four-year deal with the United Auto Workers, a union official said.
If the contract is approved -- as seems likely -- the guarantee of future work will cement the plant's future for the next several years, UAW Local 897 President Charles Gangarossa said.
"It's a great contract," he said. "The plant's going to stay open."
Production workers at Ford's Buffalo Stamping Plant approved the proposed contract by 82 percent in voting Sunday. About three-quarters of the plant's 1,000 UAW members voted, the union said.
National results of the vote are expected to be complete today. Ford, the last of the three U.S.-based automakers to complete a new labor deal, looks likely to get approval of the new contract, as several large locals have voted heavily in favor.
"From what I've seen so far, it looks like an 85, 86 percent average," Gangarossa said. Ratification requires approval by half of Ford's 58,000 UAW production workers.
Workers in at least 11 UAW units have voted in favor of the contract, with a majority in none voting against it, Bloomberg News reported.
The deal that negotiators reached Nov. 3 creates a lower-wage tier for new hires and shifts retiree health care obligations to a union-administered trust fund.
The reduced costs for Ford allowed the company to assure that the local plant has a product, Gangarossa said, although job levels will depend on the auto market.
Employment "depends on [Ford] market share and American car sales," he said.
The major products at the Buffalo Stamping Plant are body parts for the Edge crossover and its Lincoln MKX luxury counterpart. Beyond that, the site is preparing to make parts for the Flex "people mover," a replacement for the Freestar/Monterey minivans that is to be introduced in 2008.
Union and company officials were mum about the new product.
A buyout and early retirement program is likely to be launched after contract ratification, Gangarossa said, potentially opening jobs for new hires.
About 420 workers left the plant earlier this year under incentive programs that paid from $35,000 to $100,000.
As part of the UAW deal, Ford agrees to invest $200 million in its stamping facilities, according to a union contract summary.
The average worker will receive a total of $12,904 in economic gains over the life of the contract, including annual bonuses in lieu of base-wage increases and a $3,000 signing bonus.
Newly hired workers will be paid $14.20 an hour, about half the $28.13 wage for current production assembly workers. Skilled tool-and-die makers earn $32.84.
Unlike at General Motors and Chrysler, the entry wage will apply to production jobs throughout Ford's operations, not just "noncore" jobs like cleaning.
Union workers shifted to Automotive Components Holdings, Ford's former parts-making arm, will be able to transfer to job openings before entry-level workers are hired, Gangarossa said.
GM workers completed voting to ratify a new labor deal Oct. 10, with the 1,500-job Tonawanda Engine Plant voting 62 percent in favor. Chrysler workers followed suit Oct. 27. With automakers in crisis, the agreements trade concessions on pay and benefits for assurances that U.S. plants will stay open.