Ford, UAW reach tentative labor deal

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DETROIT, Nov 3 (Reuters) Ford Motor Co said on Saturday it had reached a tentative labor deal with the United Auto Workers union, capping a historic round of bargaining between the union and the embattled U.S. auto industry.

Ford, the last of Detroit's ''Big Three'' automakers to reach a contract, said the tentative four-year deal included the establishment of an independent health care trust to take over its costly obligation for retiree health care.

Both sides declined to disclose details of the contract, which now faces a ratification vote by Ford's 58,000 UAW-represented workers.

''Though we will not discuss the specifics of the tentative agreement until after it becomes final, we believe it is fair to our employees and retirees and paves the way for Ford to increase its competitiveness in the United States,'' Ford's chief negotiator Joe Lamon said in a statement.

The deal, reached early on Saturday, came after an extended marathon bargaining session of more than 40 hours at Ford's Dearborn, Michigan, headquarters.

In recent weeks, the UAW has concluded new four-year contracts with General Motors Corp. and privately held Chrysler LLC.

Both Ford and the UAW had said those cost-saving contracts provided a framework for Ford's parallel deal with the union.

The UAW, which has long enjoyed wages and benefits considered as a gold standard for union workers, agreed to sweeping concessions in this contract round with the struggling Detroit-based automakers.

Ford, which lost a record .6 billion last year, has indicated it was looking for approval to cut more factory jobs than the 27,000 it had eliminated through voluntary buyouts and early retirement offers as of June.

At just over per hour, Ford's hourly wage and benefit costs have been the lowest of the Detroit-based automakers but still well above an estimated per hour for the U.S.

operations of Toyota Motor Corp.

Ford negotiators had said they were looking for a UAW contract that would narrow or eliminate that wage gap.

For its part, the UAW had faced pressure to win pledges of improved job security from Ford, especially after Chrysler angered union-represented workers this week by cutting up to 10,000 factory jobs just days after clinching its labor deal.

''Our goals for this contract were to win new product and investment, to enhance job security and protect seniority -- and we made progress in all these areas,'' Bob King, the union's chief negotiator, said in a statement.

Ford's previous contract with the UAW expired on Sept. 14.

Both sides agreed to a rolling extension as the union focused its bargaining efforts first on GM and then on Chrysler.

REUTERS DKS RN1938

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