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Workers at Freightliner plant in North Carolina reject contract

From detnews| April 20,2007

Workers at Freightliner LLC's largest truck manufacturing plant rejected a new contract Wednesday, just weeks after the company laid off more than 1,000 employees at the facility.

Shelia Howard, a recording secretary for United Auto Workers Local 3520, told The Salisbury Post that workers rejected the contract in a 749-621 vote. Union officials did not return messages left Wednesday night by The Associated Press.

On Wednesday afternoon, some workers waiting to vote at the Cabarrus Arena in Concord, about 35 miles from the Cleveland plant, said they weren't pleased with what they said amounted to a tiny pay increase.

"Our plant is the breadwinner. It makes money for Freightliner," said Melissa Simmerson, an assembler who has worked at the plant for 12 years. "We should be paid for what we do."

The UAW did not release all details of the proposed contract, but a union official said approval would have given workers "significant" gains, including a signing bonus of more than $1,000 and protected health benefits.

"There's also improvements in disability," said Gary Casteel, a regional UAW representative.

UAW workers at Freightliner plants in Mount Holly and Gastonia have approved contracts by margins of 80 percent and 95 percent, respectively, he said.

Simmerson, 35, said she voted against the contract in part because workers at the Mount Holly plant were paid more than Cleveland plant employees under the proposed contract.

Meanwhile, Portland, Ore.-based Freightliner, a unit of DaimlerChrysler AG, has said it is cutting up to 4,000 jobs nationwide, including about 1,900 in North Carolina. The company said the cuts were in response to slow sales of trucks equipped with expensive technology to meet new diesel emissions standards.

Freightliner earlier this month laid off 1,160 at its Cleveland plant, located 44 miles north of Charlotte. That's about a third of the 3,400 workers there.

Associated Press Writer Ieva Augstums in Concord contributed to this report.

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