Ford-UAW deal nears rejection, no new talks seen

DETROIT Fri Oct 30, 2009 11:39pm EDT

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DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co's U.S. factory workers moved a step closer late Friday to delivering a landslide rejection of proposed concessions while the United Auto Workers leadership said the union would not return to talks with the automaker until 2011.

Workers at Ford's truck assembly plant near the automaker's Dearborn, Michigan headquarters voted 93 percent to reject the deal and workers at two Kentucky assembly plants voted 84 percent against it, adding to a growing number of rank-and-file workers lining up against the proposed contract changes.

A "no" vote in the closely watched ratification would represent a major setback for Ford as it seeks to bring its costs in line with U.S. rivals.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger, who had supported the proposed concessions to Ford, said on Friday that union leadership would not restart talks with the automaker if the contract changes failed in the ratification vote.

"I trust our membership," Gettelfinger said on the sidelines of an event in Detroit.

At the Dearborn truck plant, where eight union local leaders signed a petition urging rejection of the tentative deal, the vote was 1,263 against and only 101 in favor, bargaining committee member Gary Walkowicz said.

Workers at least a dozen of Ford's U.S. plants and facilities have now voted against the deal.

Walkowicz said the national tally was running at more than 70 percent against the deal, which included a "no-strike" provision on wages and benefits and other cuts.

"It's all over," Walkowicz said.

At Local 862, which represents about 5,400 Ford UAW workers at the Louisville assembly and Kentucky truck plants, the vote was 84 percent against and 16 percent in favor.

The tightening of tensions over the labor contract in the United States came as leaders of the Canadian Auto Workers union announced a tentative pact with Ford that gives workers production commitments in exchange for concessions.

CANADA WEEKEND VOTE PLANNED

The CAW agreement, which is up for ratification this weekend, would freeze wages for some 7,000 Canadian workers into September 2012 in exchange for protecting some factory jobs in Canada.

Momentum has been building among UAW local units to reject a proposed agreement with Ford announced earlier in October to change the 2007 contract and bring the automaker's labor costs in line with rivals General Motors Co and Chrysler.

The UAW concessions would be the second major revision of the four-year contract this year. The UAW would remain free to strike on issues other than wages and benefits. The UAW gave GM and Chrysler the "no strike" provision in their bankruptcies.

Approval of the contract requires a majority of votes cast by the roughly 41,000 U.S. factory workers represented by the UAW. Results were due on Monday.

Gettelfinger said he did not believe that Ford's relative health had created opposition to the contract changes. Ford reports third-quarter results on Monday.

"We're looking for Ford to have a good quarter when they announce their results," Gettelfinger said. "We knew that going into it. We know we're looking long-term for product commitment to give us long-term job security."

A Ford spokeswoman declined to comment.

Ford is the only large U.S. automaker to avoid bankruptcy in 2009, but it posted losses totaling $30 billion from 2006 through 2008 and remains saddled with a much heavier debt load than GM or Chrysler.

Gettelfinger and CAW President Ken Lewenza both have cited Ford's heavy debt load as a factor in reaching the concessions agreements with the automaker.

"Ford is not in good financial shape," Lewenza told reporters at a briefing in Toronto on Friday.

GM and Chrysler in their restructurings supported by the U.S. government both reached deeper concessions with the UAW than Ford. Ford has said that it needs the further cuts from the UAW to avoid a cost disadvantage over the long term. (Reporting by Kevin Krolicki, Bernie Woodall and David Bailey, editing by Matthew Lewis and Gunna Dickson)

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