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Big Three labor talks heat up under deadline pressure

Workers assemble a Ford Explorer at the Chicago Assembly Plant in Chicago, Ill.

Jeremy Hobson: The labor contract between the United Auto Workers Union and the Big Three American automakers expires tonight at midnight -- and there probably
will not be a new one in place come tomorrow morning. The contract talks affect wages and benefits for more than 100,000 people. We've got no word yet from Chrysler or General Motors; Ford and the union have signaled they plan to keep talking.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton has more from Detroit.


Tracy Samilton: Ford is the only Detroit car company that faces the possibility of a strike. The UAW agreed not to strike GM and Chrysler as part of their bankruptcies in 2009.

But union President Bob King says that doesn't change his approach to the talks. He wants more union jobs and a better standard of living for workers, but he says he's not willing to see high labor costs erode the profits of the Detroit Three.

Bob King: So we've got to be smart and creative finding ways to increase income without creating a competitive disadvantage.

That's why King is open to profit-sharing and bonuses tied to quality, instead of an across-the-board cost of living increase. But that stance rankles some of the rank-in-file.

Gary Walkowicz is with the UAW bargaining committee at a Ford plant in Dearborn. He thinks Ford can afford a pay hike.

Gary Walkowicz: They're profitable to the extent that Ford Motor Company made I think 6.2 billion dollars last year which was one of the most profitable years ever.

Walkowicz thinks workers are ready to walk off the job if there's no pay hike in the next contract.

But Kristin Dziczek of the Center for Automotive Research says the possibility of a strike is remote.

Kristin Dziczek: There have been dissident groups in the UAW for as long as the UAW's been around. And very rarely do they change policy dramatically.

Ford Motor Company wouldn't comment on the status of the negotiations. But the talks at General Motors and Chrysler could end suddenly. Either the companies or the union can demand binding arbitration after tonight's deadline.

I'm Tracy Samilton for Marketplace.

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