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Views on Auto Aid Fall on North-South Divide

The biggest difference in the labor costs is that the foreign automakers don't have to pay for legions of retirees -- their workers are younger and haven't received benefits that are as generous, Dziczek said.

What may account for the different attitudes toward the union in the North and the South is that jobs at the plants in places like Smyrna are prized.

"It's a prestige thing," Saltkill said. "They'd even give you 10 percent off at the fast-food restaurants there if you work at the plant."

Kathy Ward doubled her pay 27 years ago when she left a purchasing job at a mental health hospital for a purchasing job at the plant. She is now a technician making $24.92 an hour.

"Some were wholehearted for the union, I was wholehearted against," she recalled of the last union vote in 2001. "I don't need anyone to speak my mind for me. And I certainly don't want to pay someone to do it for me. The company has been very good to us."

Indeed, the couple owns a big house -- five bedrooms and three baths -- on an acre of land about six miles from the plant. The mortgage is paid. They have Nissan vehicles for everyday driving as well as a '32 Ford and a '72 Chevelle. They've taken a cruise to Nassau, in the Bahamas, and next year, when Kathy retires at 55, they will take one to Alaska.

"To us, $25 an hour is top dollar," she said, "and I'm very thankful for it."


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