Ford's union workers in St. Paul approve concessions

  • Article by: LIZ FEDOR , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 6, 2009 - 10:50 PM

UAW locals across the United States will finish voting Monday on concessions that change the union's contract with the automaker.

With unemployment rising and the recession deepening, a majority of union workers at St. Paul's Ford plant have approved concessions negotiated by the United Auto Workers.

Roger Terveen, president of UAW Local 879, said Friday that about 75 percent of local union members who voted were in favor of the deal, but he didn't release vote totals. The plant employs more than 700 UAW members.

UAW's Ford members across the country will finish voting Monday on a deal that reduces the company's labor costs by cutting pay and benefits. The agreement, which modifies the current labor contract, has been rejected by a few locals in the United States, but it is expected to win approval by a majority of voting UAW members.

The St. Paul workers voted on the concessions on Thursday, just two days after Ford reported that vehicle sales in February dropped by 48.2 percent.

Sales of Ford Ranger trucks, manufactured in St. Paul, plummeted by 51.6 percent in February. For the first two months of 2008, Ford sold 12,977 Rangers, but that figure was cut in half this year with sales of only 6,410 trucks.

"If people don't stop buying foreign-made vehicles then the auto industry in America and the jobs they provide will be gone and will never come back," Terveen said in an interview.

Production of Rangers will be halted next week in response to sluggish sales. That shutdown was expected for several weeks.

But Terveen said Friday that Ford management also expects to stop production at the St. Paul plant the week of April 20 and June 29. It was shut down for a week in February as well as six weeks around the holidays instead of the normal two-week break.

"In terms of down weeks, we will continue to align our production with demand," said Ford spokeswoman Angie Kozleski.

Terveen said that a majority of his members were willing to approve concessions because of the "economy plain and simple." Most members are focused on "keeping a job" in an extremely tough economy, he said.

The deal also allows Ford to use stock to make up to half of its contributions to the union-run health care fund for retirees. Terveen said that many retirees expressed worries about the contract changes, but he emphasized that "retiree benefits will remain the same."

Ford, which has not sought federal government funding, this week outlined a plan to reduce its debt by up to $10.4 billion.

The St. Paul plant is set to close in 2011.

Liz Fedor • 612-673-7709

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