Ford starts building a new workforce

A worker builds cars on the assembly line at Ford's Chicago Assembly plant Chicago, Ill.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: There was an automotive bright spot in the news today. A couple of them, actually. General Motors announced it has finally found a buyer for Saab. The Dutch sports carmaker Spyker has stepped in to save the Swedish brand.

And Ford said it's going to add 1,200 new jobs at an assembly plant in Chicago in the fourth quarter of this year. They will be Ford's first hires since a 2007 agreement with the United Auto Workers, a deal that lets the company bring on new workers for less. Marketplace's Alisa Roth has more now on what could be the auto worker job of the future.


ALISA ROTH: Ford doesn't know how many new workers it's going to hire yet. But when it does start hiring, it'll create a divide in its labor force.

Laura Wehrly spent 14 years at Ford before she took a buyout. Now she's back at her old job, but as a contractor. Unlike her co-workers, if she doesn't work, she doesn't get paid.

LAURA WEHRLY: Instead of all being the engine together that moves the same ship, now we have a little more distance from each other, in a way.

Ford's new employees will be in a similar situation: doing the same jobs but for a lot less money.

Sean McAlinden is chief economist at the Center for Automotive Research. He says the UAW agreed to the new contract, though it breaks with a 70-year tradition of getting workers the same pay for the same work.

SEAN MCALINDEN: Even greater significance, instead of receiving a defined benefit pension for all of their pension, they receive a 401(k) and also their health plan has higher deductibles.

McAlinden says the union realized health care and pension costs could put the Big Three out of business.

Dale Belman's a professor of labor relations at Michigan State. He says the new workers have to compare these jobs to what else is out there.

DALE BELMAN: Yeah, you're probably making three times what the guys at McDonald's are making, you've got benefits, you're doing a lot better than folks at Wal-Mart.

Ford reports earnings on Thursday. Analysts expect the company to be profitable this year, a year ahead of the company's own predictions.

I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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