Ford, UAW Talk Past Midnight Deadline for Strike

From Associated Press

The United Auto Workers continued negotiations with Ford Motor Co. Friday, and a midnight strike deadline passed without word from either side on the status of the contract talks.

Shortly after midnight, a local union official in St. Louis said there was a minute-by-minute extension, but there was no official announcement.

"Negotiations are going our way, and if they turn sour we'll walk out," said Larry Senyard, treasurer of Local 325.

Both Ford and the UAW have worked long hours this week trying to reach an agreement on a new contract for about 100,000 hourly workers. But there has been no round-the-clock bargaining yet, a traditional sign a deal is close.

"We're hopeful we can reach a settlement by the deadline," Ford spokesman Nick Sharkey had said earlier Friday.

UAW President Stephen P. Yokich told union members in a taped message earlier this week that Ford was being "stubborn" about accepting contracts agreed to by General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG.

During negotiations in 1993 and 1996, the UAW found Ford's proposal best and settled with it first, setting the pattern for the other two companies.

"We will continue to work and maybe, before the company can really make a big mistake, they'll understand that they're not first this time but third," Yokich said.

The UAW and Ford have enjoyed good relations for about 20 years, avoiding strikes like the one in Flint last year that shut down much of General Motors' production.

Ford had a profit of $6.6 billion in 1998, thanks partly to bulked-up production at the company's truck and sport-utility vehicle plants. The average worker's profit sharing payment was $6,100.

But this year, UAW officials have said they were opposed to Ford's plans to spin off or sell its parts unit, which employs 23,500 UAW workers.

Union leaders have said a spinoff of Visteon Automotive Systems could cut pay and jobs and even bring the closure of plants to better compete against other parts companies.

The four-year contracts negotiated with DaimlerChrysler, GM and GM's former parts operations included promises from the companies that they would not spin off, sell or close any division or factory--a clause that could be causing problems for Ford.

The contracts also included 3% raises each year, a $1,350 signing bonus and improved pensions.

GM and Delphi workers are expected to complete voting on the new contract by next week.

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