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Internet Access For Workers

A US union has convinced the Ford Motor Co. to offer its 350,000 workers worldwide, a home computer, colour printer and Internet access, for $5 a month. John Howard reports.

Beginning in April, the offer is one of the largest efforts by a company to equip its workers with computers.

"This program keeps Ford Motor Company and our worldwide team at the leading edge of e-business technology and skills," said Ford president and CEO, Jac Nasser.

The deal, coordinated by PeoplePC Inc. requires monthly payments of $5 for three years or just $180 total.

Hewlett-Packard will build the computers and printers while Internet access will be provided by UUNET, an MCI WorldCom company.

Ford employees will not have to pay the shipping costs and the taxes that regular customers pick up. And they will be able to upgrade with things like CD recorders and DVD drives at their own expense.

United Auto Workers president, Stephen Yokich, said the idea of giving workers computers had been raised during negotiations for a new labour contract last year.

"It's something we talked about at the bargaining table and it's something that we worked hard on," Yokich said.

The union represents about 100,000 Ford workers in the US. Ford has about 100,000 salaried employees worldwide, and another 150,000 hourly employees outside the US.

"All our people are very excited about it," Ford worker Mike McCain said. "This will include everybody. The have-nots will be a little more equal than the haves."

The union believes other car makers are likely to follow Ford's lead.

Meanwhile, President Clinton wants to expand computer access to low income families and has proposed a $2 billion plan to help low-income families gain access to computers and the world wide web.

"It would be tragic if this instrument that has done more to break down barriers between people than anything in all of human history built a new wall because not everybody had access to it," Clinton said.

" Our big goal should be to make connection to the Internet as common as connection to telephone is today." he said.

President Clinton's plan has widespread political support and will succeed on that basis.

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