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KAI RYSSDAL: The contract between the United Auto Workers and Detroit's Big Three carmakers is set to expire tonight at midnight. Negotiations that began more than two months ago were supposed to have been wrapped up already. Instead the UAW announced today Ford and Chrysler had voted to extend their contracts. And that it's singled out General Motors for special attention. Marketplace's Alisa Roth has more.

Alisa Roth: GM is what's called the strike target or lead company. So the UAW will negotiate with them first and then use that contract to negotiate with the other two. Why did the UAW pick GM to go first? David Cole is chair of the Center for Automotive Research.

David Cole: They think they can come to an agreement that has some reasonable ability to be a pattern across the industry.

A key part of that agreement will address health care. Together the Big Three have health care liabilities of close to $100 billion.

Harley Shaiken studies labor relations at the University of California, Berkeley. He says if GM accepts a trust fund for health care, Ford and Chrysler probably will, too. But he says, the contracts won't all be the same. They'll be negotiated to meet each company's particular needs:

Harley Shaiken: GM's context is slightly different, for example. It has four retirees for each active worker. At Ford it's 2 to 1 and at Chrysler almost 1 to 1.

Meanwhile, workers at locals across the country are getting ready to strike. But observers say a strike is unlikely because it would devastate both sides.

In New York, I'm Alisa Roth for Marketplace.