Even before General Motors and Chrysler entered bankruptcy, the two automakers were wheeling and dealing with the United Auto Workers, reworking their contracts signed in 2007. Since Ford wasn't partaking in the billions of dollars handed to the other two automakers by the federal government, the Dearborn, MI-based automaker was seemingly left out in the cold. Those contract changes helped GM and Chrysler emerge as stronger companies, but Ford was left hanging.

Ford and the UAW have finally gotten together to level the all-important labor playing field, as the two agreed to a tentative contract on Monday. While the terms of the deal are always sealed until the rank and file vote on them, they are also seemingly always leaked before ratification takes place. Automotive News is reporting on several of the concessions made by both the UAW and Ford, and if the updates to the 2007 contract hold they should go a long way toward giving Ford parity with its cross-town rivals.

The UAW has reportedly agreed to freeze the wages of entry level workers making $14 per hour until the agreement ends in 2011. The UAW also lifted a cap that limits the amount of low-cost workers in the plants until 2015, when those jobs are limited to 20% of the workforce. Any workers above 20% will be given traditional union wages in order of seniority. The union will also limit the amount of jobs that are classified as a skilled trade and submit the 2007 contract to binding arbitration when the contract expires in 2011. The UAW has also reportedly agreed to not strike over wage and benefit-related issues, a big win for Ford that virtually guarantees that production stoppages won't be labor-related.

The Blue Oval also had to do some bending of its own. If its 41,000 UAW workers approve the contract changes, every worker will receive a $1,000 bonus for their troubles. Perhaps even more importantly, Ford made production guarantees of facilities in Ohio, Kansas, Michigan, Illinois and Kentucky. Ford is also reportedly guaranteeing to build hybrid batteries in its Rawsonville, MI facility, adding a new vehicle to its Michigan Assembly plant and adding a vehicle at Louisville Assembly that could be exported to other markets. Ford has also promised to build the Transit Connect in the U.S. if Ford decides to move production to North America to supplement production in Turkey. Ratification of the contract is expected later today or early next week, so we'll soon find out if these contract changes are the real deal.

[Source: Automotive News, sub. req'd | Photo by Scott Olson/Getty]

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