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New Process Gear Workers Reject Latest Contract

Union workers at New York-based auto parts plant have again rejected a contract proposal aimed at keeping the money-losing factory open.

EAST SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- Union workers at a Syracuse-area auto parts plant have again rejected a contract proposal aimed at keeping the money-losing factory open.

The offer was rejected 580 to 530 during a two-day vote by workers at New Process Gear, where a previous proposal was turned down early last month.

Magna International, the Canadian company that owns the plant in East Syracuse, said it would accelerate the plant's shutdown if the offer was rejected. It had briefly halted its "wind-down process" while the union voted on the new offer.

Magna said Wednesday it was reserving comment on the vote until after it holds group meetings with employees at the plant later in the day.

"I'm not turning my back on a job," said Joe Addona, 49, of Seneca Falls, an assembler on the third shift who voted "no" in February and again Tuesday.

Addona said he doesn't want the plant to close, but workers have given so many concessions already, "I have to draw the line someplace."

UAW Local 624 leaders lobbied hard for the modified contract. They held nearly two dozen small meetings, explaining the contract to groups of between 50 and 70 for two hours at a time. The union represents about 1,200 production workers.

"None of our members wanted to see that plant close. They just want a fair day's pay for the type of work they do," said Local 624 President Scott Stanton. "Especially in the last 12-14 months, Magna asked for a lot from this membership, and clearly they've asked for too much."

The contract hinged on the plant meeting performance goals -- or coming close -- by July. The plant builds transfer cases for SUVs and trucks.

Even if the plant reached its milestones, the company planned to cut the work force almost in half, from 1,400 to 760. At its peak in 2002, the suburban Syracuse plant employed 4,000.

Without concessions on pay and work rules, Magna has said the plant can't compete and must close. The plant lost $117 million in 2007. If workers do not ratify the modified contract, Magna said it would accelerate the shutdown.

The revised contract was not much different from the one 76 percent of union members rejected in February.

Following that vote, Magna announced it would being closing the plant.

The union's bargaining committee, however, continued negotiations with management that last week produced the modified three-year contract proposal.

If the plant had reached the break-even point, workers would have kept their $20.16 per hour wage through September 2011. If the plant comes close, wages would have fallen to $16 per hour in August.

After September 2011, workers' wages would have been set at $16 per hour. Just two years ago, workers earned more than $29 an hour.

It was the union's hope that the plant would become profitable again and it could have negotiated for higher wages in the next agreement, said Stanton.

The proposed agreement would have given the plant the operating flexibility it needed to meet production schedules and customer requirements, said Greg Deveson, senior vice president of Magna Powertrain Driveline and Chassis Control Systems.

The plant intended to reach its performance milestones by becoming more efficient and by cutting overtime, worker absenteeism and worker's compensation costs, he said.

The state had offered Magna a $39 million aid package payable over three years. The federal budget also contained training money for the plant.

Last month, Magna, North America's largest auto parts supplier, reported a quarterly loss of $148 million and said its fourth-quarter sales were down nearly 30 percent. It was the company's second straight quarterly loss, although for the full year, Magna showed a profit of $71 million.

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