SAGINAW -- Delphi Corp. workers in Flint and Saginaw -- which rely on
the auto-parts maker for more than 3,000 jobs -- expressed resignation, reluctance and relief as they voted on a historic contract proposal Thursday.
The pact would reduce wages for veteran workers, secure some jobs, lose thousands of others and propel Delphi from bankruptcy.
Advertisement But what matters more to the 17,000 UAW workers at Delphi is what the proposal means for their futures, whether they are closing in on retirement or starting their careers.
A native of Bay City, 19-year-old Dustin Meyer worries about his future in the auto industry: What kind of living will he have beyond the four-year proposed contract? Will he eventually be able to graduate to a position as a skilled worker?
"I don't want to be stuck on a machine the rest of my life," said Meyer, who is working toward a degree to become an electrician.
He voted against the contract. Meyer is rooted in Michigan and doesn't want to be forced to leave to find a new job. "Someday when I want to start a family, I want to make sure I can take care of them," Meyer said.
His friend Audrey Redeemer, a veteran Delphi worker, sat down with Meyer at the edge of a garden covered with red wood chips outside UAW Local 699 in Saginaw.
She suggested he take things one day at a time and try not to worry about things that are out of his control.
After 27 1/2 years with Delphi and GM, its former owner, Redeemer advises union members on family issues. The skilled-trade worker voted for the contract and plans to stay at Delphi.
"I'm too young to retire," she said, though she didn't want her age published. "I'm too old to go out and try to find something else to do."
Results began to trickle in from union locals Thursday evening. With at least one union local not voting until early this morning, workers won't know national results until today.
If ratified, the contract proposal would free up the UAW to focus on contract talks next month with General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group. A ratified contract also is an essential step for Troy-based Delphi to negotiate the financing it needs to leave Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Many workers who voted for the deal said they did so because they fear the alternatives would be worse. These workers don't want to strike or leave the decision to a bankruptcy judge. Newer workers, like so many of those at Flint East -- where the contract was overwhelmingly approved -- said they felt fortunate to keep their jobs.
"We all feel very lucky for what we've got," said Jennifer White, 35, of Swartz Creek after voting on the contract at UAW Local 651 in Flint. "For every one of us, there's 1,000 people in Flint who would take our jobs right now."
White, who joined Delphi last year as a production worker, sported a Vote Yes sticker handed to her by a local union representative. Knowing that she'll have a job means White can start building an addition to her home.
White was one of dozens of workers who poured into the union hall during a midafternoon shift change from Flint East across the street.
So was Debbie Sopha, who showed up to vote with four of her Flint East coworkers. "If you approve ... then you can fight for something more down the line," said Sopha, a quality inspector.
Back in Saginaw, it was during Patricia Kirnon's first union meeting Monday that she learned about the contract proposal that the UAW, Delphi and GM negotiated.
At first she was skeptical and didn't know what it would mean for her future. But Wednesday night, she learned more of the details. The 48-year-old wouldn't have to take a pay cut, a factor that swayed her to vote for the proposal.
"This is a better-paying job than any job I've had," said Kirnon, a janitor at Saginaw Steering.
Kirnon rode to the union hall with her friend and coworker Theresa Burke, who faces a different situation. She has worked for Delphi and GM for 11 years and, under the proposal, would take about a $10-an-hour wage cut in exchange for three annual $35,000 payments, called a buy-down.
Burke, 51, of Montrose plans to retire in a few years.
She voted for the contract: "I can't say I like it a lot, but there are choices."
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