RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Today is the last day for United Auto Workers to vote for a new contract with Ford. The new deal would mean nearly 6,000 new jobs in the U.S. Ford and the UAW both say it's a good deal for the company and its union employees. But NPR's Sonari Glinton reports many workers remain unconvinced.
SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: On Chicago's South Side is Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant. And in its 87 years, it's made an array of Fords, from to the Model A to the Model T to the latest Ford Taurus. Now, you should know I worked there for three summers when I was in college 15 years ago. I went there recently to talk to workers about how they feel about the proposed union contract.
ORLANDO MENDOZA: I don't really like it. I voted no. So I don't really think it's fair for what they're offering us and what they've taken away from us.
GLINTON: Orlando Mendoza has worked at Ford for 19 years.
MENDOZA: They've taken away our cost of living. And they don't want to give us any raises. And, you know, everybody's inflation is 4 percent a year, and we're not even getting anything compared to that. So we're actually making less now than we did five, ten years ago.
GLINTON: The contract doesn't bring back cost of living adjustments. Essentially, instead of fixed pay raises veteran workers get bonuses and profit sharing. It raises Ford's labor cost by only about 1 percent. John Weems also works at Chicago Assembly and voted no also.
JOHN WEEMS: The thing is we haven't had a raise in six years. So, you know, when does it end? Ford's making money hand over fist. And we can't be - these people are trying to make a living. I mean, I'm at the high scale, but I've been here 44 years. So...
GLINTON: There are two pay scales. One for workers like Mendoza and Weems. New workers will see their pay go up about 3.50 an hour, still far less than veteran workers.
ANGELIQUE KEYES: I personally had to vote for me.
GLINTON: Angelique Keyes voted for the contract. She started at Ford a few months ago. Keyes says the contract isn't perfect, but...
KEYES: I couldn't vote for what everybody else is saying. That was my point of view. I've been out of work for two years. I want to continue to work. That's it. And that's all for me. I just want to keep working.
GLINTON: Union leaders are busy trying to persuade workers to say yes, and they wouldn't make themselves available for comment until the totals are in. Ford released a statement calling the agreement fair to its employees. And a Ford spokeswoman pointed out the tide is turning towards ratification. But why this discontent?
KRISTIN DZICZEK: I think this time expectations especially at Ford were very high.
GLINTON: Kristin Dziczek is and analyst with the Center for Automotive Research. She says workers made concessions when times were bad and expected to get them back.
DZICZEK: There's a lot of virtue, I guess, or perceived virtue in being the company that did not take a government bailout and did not go through bankruptcy.
GLINTON: Dziczek says that virtue came at a price. Despite the company's profitability now, it has a lot of debt. And things have fundamentally changed in the car business.
DZICZEK: There's a Bruce Springsteen line: Those jobs are gone and they ain't comin' back. But they're gone and it's going to take a really long time to get back to the industry that we had just, you know, five or six years ago.
GLINTON: Dziczek says a healthy amount of discontent could mean one side didn't pull a fast one on the other.
Sonari Glinton, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.