The United Auto Workers union's (UAW) national Ford council last night endorsed the union's tentative agreement with Ford on health care and called on the US government to establish a national healthcare programme.

The tentative agreement is subject to ratification by active union members and approval by a federal district court.

Changes for active workers

If the agreement is ratified by active UAW-Ford members and approved by the court, active workers will forego future pay increases through the deferral of 17 cents of future quarterly cost-of-living adjustments (COLA) and the 3% wage increase scheduled for September 2006. In addition, after the 17-cent COLA deferral has been reached, an additional 2 cents of each subsequent quarterly COLA adjustment will be deferred.

Health care coverage for UAW-Ford active workers will continue with no changes, other than several administrative changes and increases in prescription drug co-payments.

Changes for retirees and surviving spouses

Retirees with Ford pension incomes of $8,000 or less and whose Ford pension benefit rate is $33.33 or less per month per year of service will not be affected by the proposed changes. Their health care coverage will continue as is, except for administrative changes.

All other UAW-Ford retirees and surviving spouses will be required to pay monthly premiums of $10 for individual coverage and $21 for family coverage. Deductibles and co-payments will be implemented.

"As we said on Saturday, our goal in these discussions with Ford was to provide the best possible health care coverage and the strongest possible long-term protections for UAW-Ford active workers, retirees and surviving spouses. We believe the tentative agreement meets that goal, and we are gratified by the UAW national Ford council's strong endorsement," said UAW president Ron Gettelfinger and vice president Gerald Bantom, who directs the UAW national Ford department, in a statement.

"The tentative agreement will require sacrifices from active workers, retirees and surviving spouses to help ensure that all UAW-Ford families will continue to have excellent health care coverage now and in the future," Gettelfinger and Bantom added. "These sacrifices are shared equitably and, as at General Motors, we succeeded in protecting the people who need it most - our low-income retirees and surviving spouses."

Gettelfinger and Bantom said the tentative agreement will play an important role in improving Ford's competitiveness by: reducing Ford's liabilities and yearly health care spending, and committing Ford to invest US$900 million in product innovation and new technology.

"We discussed the investment issue extensively, and all parties agree that enhancing Ford's core domestic vehicle business is vital to a secure future for UAW-Ford workers, retirees and surviving spouses, as well as the communities where Ford does business," Gettelfinger and Bantom said.

The focus of the new investment will be projects and initiatives, such as building fuel cell, hybrid, and other advanced technology vehicles and drive trains that would not have been possible without the commitments contained in the tentative agreement.

"The UAW will continue to work with employers to address critical health care issues, but the hard reality is that America's health care crisis cannot be solved by one union, one company or one industry," the UAW leaders said. "The time is long overdue for the United States to join the rest of the world's advanced industrialised nations and establish a national health insurance programme. Meaningful health care reform is at the top of the UAW's agenda because quality, affordable health care is a top priority for every American working family."