Ford Motor Co. and the United Autoworkers union confirm that their four-year contract agreement has been approved by the company’s approximately 54,0000 unionized workers. The pact was endorsed by a 79% majority (81% of production workers, 71% of skilled tradesmen ) — a much higher margin than similar contracts achieved at rivals General Motors Corp. or Chrysler L.L.C. The agreement was reached on November 3, without a strike. Voting on the proposal began November 7. "We are pleased that our employees have voted to accept and finalize our new Collective Bargaining Agreement," stated Ford president and CEO Alan Mulally. "This agreement is proof that by working together with our UAW partners, it is possible to find solutions that collectively benefit our employees, retirees and the company. This contract will provide significant opportunities for the company's long-term competitiveness, and that is good for all of us." UAW president Ron Gettelfinger stated: “Our bargaining team negotiated a contract that protects wages, benefits, and seniority for our active members and provides income and health care security for our retired members.” He said the union resisted efforts by the company for more significant concessions on employment reduction, and claimed the two sides reached a “creative agreement that addresses the concerns of our members, and also gives the company the opportunity to move forward.” Following the pattern set in new contracts with GM and Chrysler, Ford will transfer its estimated $22-billion obligation for retiree health-care costs to a Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Assn., or VEBA, and it cleared the way for more capacity realignment, restrictions on wages and job classifications, and new hiring standards. However, Ford also agreed to slow the rate of plant closings — including a one-year delay in the planned shutdown of the Cleveland Casting Plant, in Ohio.