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Lear workers vote to reject contract

Lear Corp. is building a new $30 million factory in Hammond. Workers at its seat-making operations in Hammond and Portage voted to reject a proposed contract with the auto parts supplier.

Lear workers in Hammond and Portage, who had earlier backed a strike authorization, weren't happy with a proposed contract the United Auto Workers union brought back to them.

About 125 workers backed the proposed collective bargaining pact at a ratification vote at the U.S. Steel Yard in downtown Gary, while 364 workers voted against the deal, according to the union.

In the wake of the failed proposal, Hammond-based United Auto Workers Local 2335 has scheduled meetings in Portage, East Chicago and Munster to solicit feedback from members, asking them to list their top three concerns.

"It is very important to your bargaining committee to hear feedback from all members," the union said in a flier distributed to auto workers.

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Neither UAW President Jamie Luna nor Southfield, Mich.-based Lear returned messages. Neither the union nor Lear disclosed details of the proposed deal other than that it included a wage increase, and the contract was not explained to auto workers prior to the ratification vote in which it was rejected.

UAW briefly went on strike in Hammond during the last round of contract talks in 2014. They ultimately secured a four-year contract with up to $21.58 an hour for workers who had been making as little as $13 an hour.

Two-tier pay for senior and lower workers had been a major point of contention between union workers and the auto parts supplier, which makes seats for Ford's Chicago Assembly Plant. The union claimed it successfully staved off a two-tier system during the 2014 negotiations, but then Lear opened a new operation in Portage where 264 hourly subassembly workers make an average of $12.28 an hour.

Lear is now consolidating its Northwest Indiana operations in Hammond, building a new $30 million plant that will employ 875 workers just south of the South Shore Line station in East Chicago.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.