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 |  Oct 13 2011, 8:00 PM

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Local 551 of Chicago’s Ford Plant gave a resounding “no” to the new four-year labor contract. Local 551 represents about 6 percent of Ford’s United Auto Workers (UAW) employees and according to  secretary-treasurer Scott Houldieson of Local 551, the two-tier pay scale was one of the biggest reasons the plant’s workers voted against it.

The current agreement would pay less experienced second-tier employees $19.28 per hour, 70 percent less than the first tier. According to Houldieson, that wasn’t enough to sway many second-tier voters. There was also no cost-of-living allowance and a provision for profit sharing and a signing bonus instead of wage increases for veteran employees.

The negative vote might seem like a sign of things to come, but there are still two weeks left for the agreement to be ratified. “The Chicago vote is a troubling, though hardly fatal sign,” said Harley Shaiken of the University of California-Berkeley in an interview with Reuters.

“In the 2007 Chrysler ratification vote, some early plants voted ‘no’ but the later plants voted strongly ‘yes’ when, in part, they understood their vote could prove decisive. We won’t know the result until the last vote is counted,” he said.

Tom Saybolt, a former Ford attorney who now teaches at the University of Detroit-Mercy law school agreed and pointed out that some Ford plants historically vote “no.” In fact, the current tentative agreement is more generous than what workers at GM are getting and significantly better than the deal Chrysler made.

Saybolt said that gives more leverage to the UAW to push the contract with Ford forward. If that isn’t enough to convince workers to vote “yes,” it could mean Ford losing patience and moving jobs to Mexico. If the agreement passes, 20,000 new jobs will be created, but if it fails there is a chance that 12,000 jobs will move south of the border.

The plant currently builds the Ford Explorer, Ford Taurus and Lincoln MKS.

[Source: Reuters]