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Ford achievements stir resentment in union, complicate contract talks

Ford's turnaround over the last five years has resulted in big profits and won its CEO a reputation for brilliant management.

But those achievements are stirring resentment among many of its factory workers, and that is complicating contract talks between the company and its union employees.

At the Rouge, Ford's massive, 94-year-old factory complex in Dearborn, there is talk along the assembly lines of winning back raises and bonuses lost when the company was near financial collapse in 2007. Workers, who assemble F-150 pickup trucks at the site, are upset that Ford is trying to cut labor costs, especially after nine straight profitable quarters and a $26.5 million pay package for CEO Alan Mulally.

A few miles to the north, inside Ford's 13-story headquarters known as the Glass House, executives are worried because workers, on average, cost the company $58 an hour in pay and benefits, the highest in the U.S. auto industry.

Both sides are trying to find a compromise this week while work continues at Ford factories under a contract extension. A top union bargainer told workers on a telephone recording Monday night that talks are accelerating and that he is "hopefully optimistic" a deal can be reached this week.

Ford's profits and the possibility of a strike could force the company into a deal that is more generous to workers than the one already negotiated with General Motors Co. Chrysler, meanwhile, continues to negotiate its own contract with the union.

The United Auto Workers, according to the records, has protected longtime factory workers from cuts to health care, overtime and other benefits that salaried workers were forced to take. Salaried workers pay 30 percent of their health care costs, for example, while hourly workers pay just 6 percent.

The average hourly worker at Ford made $109,020 in 2010, including wages, benefits and overtime, up 17 percent from 1999. The average salaried factory supervisor made $99,760 in wages and benefits, up just 2 percent in the same period, records show.

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