The United Auto Workers union and Ford Motor Co. were unable to reach a contract settlement at Tuesday’s midnight deadline, but the UAW continued negotiations without calling an immediate strike.
The UAW instructed local union leaders around the country to stay on the job today, extending on an “hour-to-hour” basis the three-year agreement that covers about 96,000 Ford hourly workers in 50 plants.
The union’s action indicates that the two sides are close to a settlement and expect it can be hammered out soon without a strike. Bargaining at Ford’s headquarters here continued into the early hours this morning.
Meanwhile, in Toronto, the Canadian Auto Workers reached a tentative agreement with Chrysler Corp. on a new three-year contract. The proposed contract would provide Chrysler’s 10,500 Canadian workers with higher wages in each year and increased pension benefits. Chrysler also agreed to add a third shift at its Windsor minivan plant, which will result in the hiring of 600 new workers.
Negotiations between the UAW and Ford began in late June and both sides had been optimistic that a new contract could be signed before the old one expired. But talks apparently got bogged down over some difficult issues, including health care, a lower pay scale for new workers and the length of the contract.
UAW President Owen Bieber told reporters early Tuesday that “there are all kinds of problems here yet, major problems that have to be resolved.” But he added that he believed a settlement could be reached.
Later, Jack Hall, Ford’s chief negotiator, said that negotiations were continuing on several issues. “They are difficult but I remain optimistic,” he said.
The negotiations have been generally amiable this year, with both sides seeming to recognize that a strike would harm the recovery of the domestic auto makers, who are gaining market share against their Japanese rivals.
The contract with Ford will set the agenda with talks with General Motors and Chrysler. The UAW’s contracts with GM and Chrysler also expired Tuesday night but were automatically extended.
The UAW hopes to impose many of the same conditions it obtains from Ford on the other Detroit auto makers. But many analysts expect that the union will grant GM some concessions because of its precarious financial condition. GM, the nation’s No. 1 auto maker, is cutting its work force and closing plants in an effort to cut costs.
Ford, however, has been thriving. It has gained market share in the past two years. In the first half of 1993, the company posted earnings of $1.35 billion.
In picking Ford as its negotiating target, the UAW appeared to be going after the healthiest company in the hopes of getting the best deal with the fewest concessions.