The United Auto Workers and Big Three automakers continued bargaining toward tentative contracts yesterday covering nearly 300,000 workers as tomorrow's deadline neared, but one union negotiator dispelled speculation that an agreement was imminent.
“While we are nearing the end of our efforts, it should be noted that our most difficult issues remain, despite what you may have read, heard, or seen in the media,” Bernie Ricke, a member of the UAW's national committee negotiating with Ford Motor Co. and Visteon Corp., said in a telephone message for workers updated yesterday afternoon.
People familiar with the talks and industry experts said an agreement could have come as soon as yesterday with one or all of Detroit's car companies as UAW President Ron Gettelfinger worked to reach simultaneous accords. Elected to lead the UAW last year, he has indicated a willingness to try different approaches to organizing and negotiating as the Big Three lose market share and jobs to foreign competitors.
A Reuters news service report, quoting unnamed sources, said a Detroit car company official expected a settlement by last night and a union official said it was possible.
Some presidents of union locals in the Toledo region said yesterday afternoon they had no word from the union's international headquarters in Detroit about meeting to vote on a tentative agreement. Presidents and shop chairmen of locals meet to vote on the agreements before they are presented to members, and often those meetings are scheduled once national union leaders think a settlement is imminent.
Mr. Gettelfinger is scheduled to speak today at an AFL-CIO rally, called Bargaining for America Laborfest, at Detroit's Ford Field. His appearance, however, depends on progress of the talks, a union spokesman said.
Some analysts and labor experts say the new pacts likely will reflect the difficult predicaments of the automakers, whose combined U.S. market share fell to an all-time monthly low in August. Some say it is likely the union will grant concessions on wage and pension benefits in exchange for the continuation of nearly cost-free health care.
National agreements with the Big Three, Visteon, and Delphi Corp. expire at 11:59 p.m. tomorrow. In the past, the union has reached an agreement with one automaker, and used it as a pattern to nail down details with the other two. Agreements at Visteon and Delphi, parts suppliers spun off from Ford and General Motors Corp., respectively, will mirror pacts with their former parents.
About 15,500 workers at two GM, two Ford, one DaimlerChrysler AG, two Visteon, and two Delphi factories in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan are included in the national negotiations.
About 4,400 workers at Toledo Jeep Assembly, meanwhile, are covered by a separate pact that also expires tomorrow night. Talks with UAW Local 12 at Toledo Jeep are continuing, a Chrysler spokesman said yesterday. Nick Vuich, Local 12's Jeep unit chairman, could not be reached for comment.