DETROIT — United Auto Workers members have ratified a historic four-year contract with Ford Motor Co. that sets lower pay for some newly hired workers and puts the company's huge retiree health care debt into a UAW-run trust.

The UAW, which represents about 54,000 workers at Ford, said Wednesday that 79 percent of those voting favored the pact.

Workers at General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC already have ratified similar deals, with the contract winning at Chrysler by only a small margin. Unlike the other two automakers, there was no strike at Ford.

The landmark deals have been praised by the companies and union for protecting jobs while at the same time cutting labor costs to make the struggling automakers more competitive with their Japanese rivals.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said the union negotiated a contract with Ford that protects wages, benefits and seniority rights and provides income and secure health care for retirees.

"We stood our ground in the face of some rather big asks by the company and came away with a creative agreement that addresses the concerns of our members and also gives the company the opportunity to move forward," he said in a statement. "Now it's up to Ford to successfully bring to market the top-quality vehicles our members are building in UAW Ford factories."

The UAW said production workers voted 81 percent in favor of the deal, while skilled trades workers were 71 percent in favor.

In addition to the active workers, the deal covers more than 94,000 Ford retirees and 28,000 surviving spouses. It will run until Sept. 14, 2011.

Ford shares fell 9 cents to $7.91 in morning trading Wednesday.