A majority of UAW members working for General Motors have voted to ratify a new collective bargaining agreement with the automaker.

The vote was 66% in favour of the four-year pact among production workers, and 64% in favor among skilled trades workers, the UAW said in a statement.

The union reached a tentative agreement with GM on 26September, following a two-day strike against the company. UAW president Ron Gettelfinger praised the membership and local union leadership for their solid support.

"We entered these negotiations with a clear mandate from our membership," Gettelfinger said. "With their help and solidarity, we were able to achieve our goals. We protected jobs, wages and benefits for both active and retired General Motors workers - and we helped protect middle-class manufacturing jobs in communities throughout the United States."

The new contract covers more than 73,000 active workers at GM and more than 269,000 GM retirees and 69,000 surviving spouses. It will expire on 14 September, 2011.

The union said the agreement delivers substantial economic gains to active workers, including a $US3,000 signing bonus, two 3% lump sums and a 4% lump sum. Projected economic gains for a typical UAW GM assembler during the life of the agreement will total $13,056, including bonuses, lump sums, and projected gains from cost-of-living allowances (COLA).

The union also claimed the contract brings unprecedented job security with company commitments to invest in new products for its existing US facilities, as well as a moratorium on plant closings and outsourcing of work over the life of the agreement. The UAW also was able to secure a commitment to hire 3,000 temporary workers into full-time, traditional employment.

The contract maintains comprehensive health care and prescription drug coverage for active workers. In addition, GM will contribute more than $35bn to secure long-term health care for UAW GM retirees. This includes a $24.1bn contribution to a new Voluntary Employee Beneficiary Association (VEBA), which will establish an independent trust fund to pay retiree health benefits; up to $1.6bn in additional contributions if needed to maintain the solvency of the trust fund; a $4.37 bn convertible note issued by GM, and an estimated $5.4bn in direct payments for retiree health care through by 1 January 2010, before the new VEBA is operational.

Active workers will contribute to the cost of retiree health care through COLA diversions, and because resources that would have been used for a general wage increase for active workers will instead be contributed to the VEBA. A portion of COLA payments will also be diverted to defray the cost of health care for active workers.

For the first time, the UAW GM agreement will provide both an increase in basic pension benefits for retirees and a lump-sum payment in the first year of the agreement. Basic pension benefits are increased in each year of the agreement and "30-and-out" benefits are enhanced for workers who retire under the new agreement. Current retirees will receive a $700 lump-sum payment in December, and a lump-sum payment based on years of credited service for each of the other three years of the agreement. Surviving spouses will receive 65% of these amounts.

The new contract provides that entry-level workers at GM in non-core job classifications such as material movement, general stores management and kitting and sequencing will be paid under a new, lower wage and benefit structure. These provisions are intended to keep work in GM plants and to encourage the possibility of future employment growth.

In recognition of the ongoing health care crisis in the United States, the agreement also establishes the National Institute for Health Care Reform, a joint labour-management effort to improve the affordability, accessibility and accountability of the US health care system.

The Institute, with $15m in initial funding from five annual $3m payments by GM, will serve as a research and educational centre dedicated to improving the medical delivery system, including efforts to expand access to quality health care for all Americans, the UAW said.