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Kansas City UAW plant workers reject Ford contract

By David Bailey
/ Source: Reuters

By David Bailey

DETROIT (Reuters) - Union workers at Ford Motor Co's Kansas City assembly plant overwhelmingly rejected proposed contract changes that include a "no-strike" provision on wages and benefits, the local president said on Monday.

The vote at the plant where Ford builds the F-150 pickup truck and Escape SUV was a setback for the automaker and United Auto Workers union national leaders who have recommended approving changes that would bring Ford's labor costs in line with rivals General Motors Co and Chrysler.

UAW members voted 92 percent against the agreement, citing in part a blurring of job classifications for skilled workers, the "no strike" provision and a lack of limits on hiring of entry level workers, UAW Local 249 President Jeff Wright said.

The vote was 1,712-147 against the contract changes at the plant, where Ford has more than 3,700 UAW-represented workers.

Wright took no position on the proposed changes.

Ford's 2007 contract with the UAW covers some 41,000 workers at plants across the United States. Ratification of the proposed changes requires a majority of votes cast.

Workers at five Ford plants in Michigan and Ohio that have about 4,800 UAW workers last week backed the tentative agreement reached on October 13.

UAW workers have made a series of givebacks to Ford since 2005, most recently in February for changes executives said would save the automaker $500 million per year.

About 59 percent of production workers and 58 percent of skilled trades workers at Ford supported the contract changes earlier this year, but several local officials have said they expected more push-back against additional concessions.

Analysts see Ford as in a better competitive position than GM or Chrysler and some believe Ford could return to a full year profit as soon as 2010. The automaker has said it expects to be at least break-even in 2011.

Ford said agreements GM and Chrysler made with the UAW around their government-supported reorganizations would put the company at a disadvantage over the long term.

The proposed concessions include a wage-freeze for entry level workers, a reduction in the number of job classifications for skilled workers and arbitration on wages and benefits.

Ford affirmed or added to production commitments as well and is offering a one-time $1,000 bonus next year if the automaker meets quality targets as sweeteners for the changes.

Ford shares fell 16 cents, or 2.1 percent, to $7.47 Monday on the New York Stock Exchange.

(Reporting by David Bailey; editing by Carol Bishopric)