STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) _ Henry Kochan has raised nine children on Ford Motor Co. wages and says he's been treated well.

The 58-year-old pipefitter makes good money at the rear-axle plant here and has no beef with the new tentative contract reached Wednesday between Ford and the United Auto Workers Union.

''My kids don't have a job like this,'' said Kochan, who has been with Ford for 32 years. ''It's great to have a job like this, and we don't work too hard.''

Several union workers at the suburban Detroit plant said they were pleased the agreement came without a strike - even though negotiations extended nearly 24 hours past the strike deadline.

''We've made so many gains over the last 10 to 15 years. Everybody loses with a strike,'' said Geoffrey Green, who has worked at Ford for 29 years.

''Because we've made so many gains in the past, you get to where what more can you ask for without getting ridiculous?'' Green said.

The three-year tentative contract includes improved retirement benefits and continued health-care benefits that require no out-of-pocket premiums or co- payments by workers.

An average union worker makes about $40,000 a year with overtime.

The conciliatory spirit among many - but not all - auto workers and their bosses is a growing trend brought on by a recognition that both sides prosper when they get along, said David Cole, director of the University of Michigan's Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation.

''The most significant thing that came out of the negotiations was that it was no big deal,'' Cole said. ''The loudest noise is the silence of criticism that existed between the two parties. It just wasn't the fire and the animosity and venom. It's just not there.''

Ten years ago, Ford was closing plants and shedding workers to meet market realities brought on by the invasion of inexpensive imported cars.

''The UAW viewed themselves as antagonists. They were competing with management,'' Cole said. ''It's shifted from us vs. them to us vs. the Japanese.

''That drives in this new situation. It drives the recognition that if the company is successful, we're successful.''

When toolmaker Al Adams started at Ford in the 1950s, he quit after nine months because he thought working conditions were dangerous. He returned several years later.

''It's real good today compared with years ago. It was a pretty unsafe place. Now it's a pretty safe place,'' Adams said.