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UAW and Big Three Are Said to Be Close on Labor Pacts

Simultaneous deals could be announced as early as today, union and automaker officials say.

September 12, 2003|From Associated Press

DETROIT — The United Auto Workers and Big Three automakers appeared close to simultaneous labor agreements Thursday, three days before the current pacts expire, union and auto officials familiar with the talks said.

The sources, who spoke to Associated Press on condition of anonymity, said agreements between the UAW and General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler could be announced as early as today but almost certainly before Sunday's midnight deadline.

"What would be a surprise is if the talks weren't settled before the deadline," an official with one of the automakers said.

The union and Big Three automakers have never reached simultaneous contract agreements.

The UAW typically chooses one carmaker as the lead negotiator and uses that pact as a model for the other two. However, the union, headed by President Ron Gettelfinger, has been bargaining with all three automakers at once this year and has not publicly named a lead company.

Representatives for the three automakers and the UAW declined to comment on the status of the talks Thursday.

The UAW and Big Three, along with suppliers Delphi Corp. and Visteon Corp., have held contract talks behind closed doors since mid-July. The pacts will cover wages and benefits for 300,000 workers and pension payments and benefits for an additional half-million retirees and their spouses.

General Holiefield, a top aide to UAW Vice President Nate Gooden in the union's DaimlerChrysler department, said in a recorded message that bargainers were working extended hours "to achieve a contract that best addresses our members' needs in these difficult times and positions DaimlerChrysler to win back market share and return to profitability."

Some analysts and labor experts say the new pacts probably will reflect the difficult predicaments of the automakers, whose combined U.S. market share fell to an all-time monthly low of 57.9% in August.

Analysts say each side understands the other's situation and that compromise in areas such as wage and pension increases is probable.

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