US Mitsubishi workers accept deal


Sun, Sep 03, 2006 - Page 11

Union workers accepted a package of pay and benefit cuts in exchange for a promise that their jobs are safe for the next two years at troubled Mitsubishi Motors' assembly plant in Normal, officials said.

The deal at Mitsubishi's only North American factory was approved Friday after two days of voting by about 1,500 United Auto Workers members at the plant where about 1,200 workers were laid off two years ago as part of a worldwide revival plan Mitsubishi called its last chance to survive as an automaker. The vote was 663-637.

Many workers grumbled about the concessions as they waited to vote. They complained they were being asked to pay for Mitsubishi's mistakes and called the job guarantees a hollow promise, saying the plant could close despite the company's pledge.

Mitsubishi asked workers for a temporary US$4 an hour pay cut and other wage and benefit concessions as it seeks to recover from mounting debt and slumping sales.

In exchange, the Japanese-based automaker guaranteed no involuntary layoffs and that the nearly 20-year-old factory would stay open during the length of the modified contract, which would run through August 2008.

United Auto Workers negotiators, who hammered out concessions during months of talks with the company, had recommended workers approve the deal "to protect our jobs and guarantee future investment," according to a summary of the proposed contract given to employees on Thursday.

The union says the concessions will save Mitsubishi US$40 million.

Mitsubishi is seeking to reverse three straight years of losses that mounted as sales fell due to recall scandals in Japan and risky financing deals that backfired in the US.

The company's US sales are down 9.5 percent for the year but rose about 5 percent in July as consumers gravitated toward smaller, fuel-efficient cars and away from larger sport utility vehicles.