MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
The United Auto Workers have two big deadlines tomorrow. The union says it will go on strike against Chrysler if it doesn't reach an agreement on a new contract. It is also expected to wrap up voting on its groundbreaking deal with General Motors.
NPR's Frank Langfitt spoke with union members who work in and around Baltimore to see how they're voting on the agreement with G.M.
FRANK LANGFITT: Rick Romano unlocks his Chevy Tahoe and rummages through a canvass satchel for a summary of the contract. Like a student cramming for a test, he's studying up for a vote at UAW Local 239. But how to make sense of a document that's thicker than a big city phonebook?
As he heads inside the local for a briefing, Romano doesn't know which way he'll go.
RICK ROMANO: I am right on the borderline. I know we need to get back to work and America needs to work, but I'm also looking at some of the major concessions that we're taking. And it could lead me to give the no vote. So I can go either way.
LANGFITT: Romano works for Allison Transmission, until recently, a GM subsidiary. But he's still a member of the union and comes under the contract. The tentative deal is designed to slash GM's costs, so it can compete with Toyota, Honda and other foreign companies. One way GM wants to cut costs is by hiring some future workers at half pay. Workers currently make an average of $28 an hour. Under the new contract, some could earn as little as $14 an hour.
DAN LASIK J: I'm Dan Lasik, Jr. I'm 44 and I was a maintenance welder at the van plant in Baltimore.
LANGFITT: Lasik says hiring new people at half price may help GM take on the competition, but he thinks it will cause trouble in the factory.
LASIK J: The bad part with this two-tier wage that I see - it's going to cost a lot of, you know, the dissent between people. You know, I mean, you were working side by side. And I'm making, you know, a whole bunch more money than you are. You're not going to be happy about it. And, I mean, I think it could cause problems.
GUY WHITE: I'm Guy White. And I'm a machine repairman at Allison Transmission and I'm 50.
LANGFITT: White is suspicious of another big concession - the union taking over responsibility for retiree health care. GM will pay more than $35 billion into a trust fund and the union will manage it. If health care costs spiral, the problem will largely fall to the union to solve.
WHITE: I mean, GM wanted to unload the health care. And so, I mean, it's like a smelly sneaker or something, I don't know. If they don't want it, why do I want it?
LANGFITT: But when White puts his pencil on his ballot this day, he votes for the contract. The reason is simple: employment. Although the contract will eliminate some jobs, it also guarantees work at several plants Allison supplies. And in the uncertain world of American manufacturing, that may be as good as it gets.
WHITE: The bottom line is is that we got a job. I mean, it looks like we'll have a job for at least another four to ten years, anyway. And I'm sure we're going to be where we are. We're going to be paying more for our health care. But at the end of the day, we have a good job. And, I mean, what more can you ask for?
LANGFITT: After the vote, Rick Romano returns to the parking lot in his truck. He won't say how he voted, but he predicts his local union will pass it.
ROMANO: Now, everybody wants to work. I mean, nobody wants to see a strike. I think it will fly, I really do.
LANGFITT: How about nationally?
ROMANO: Nationally, it'll go. It'll, definitely.
LANGFITT: Romano knows his local well. The membership passed the contract overwhelmingly.
Frank Langfitt, NPR News.
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