By Jeff Gilbert

NOTE: WWJ AutoBeat Reporter Jeff Gilbert is covering this year’s talks. You can follow his Twitter feed (@jefferygilbert) here.

DETROIT (WWJ) — This year’s auto talks have reached what is traditionally referred to as “crunch time,” but there’s less “crunch” this year. With talks at Ford on the back burner, and the union barred from striking at GM and Chrysler, the traditional contract expiration time—11:59 PM, September 14th—is more of a goal than a deadline.

Still, UAW President Bob King has told both of Detroit’s daily newspapers that teams are “bargaining hard” and hoping to get a deal at GM and Chrysler before the current contract expires.

By all accounts, talks have been going smoothly.

“It seems to be very pragmatic, practical, working very long days, but not really pushing each other at the table,” says Kristin Dzicek, who heads the labor team at the Center for Auto Research.

Dzicek says negotiators very rarely beat the contract deadline, and traditionally go far past it. So, she said it wouldn’t be unusual for that to happen this time around.

The talks at Ford started slowing down last week, and by mid-afternoon on Tuesday, both sides were ready to publicly announce that they were extending the contract on a day-to-day basis.

“I can confirm that Ford and the UAW have agreed to continue bargaining past the expiration of the current contract in an effort to reach a tentative agreement that is in the best interest of both parties,” said Ford spokeswoman Marci Evans. “At this time, however, we are not going to provide further comment about the nature of our discussions, or speculate about timing or the potential outcome of our talks.”

As part of the extension, the UAW is required to give Ford 72 hours notice of any strike deadline. Traditionally, that kind of notice is given when union bargainers believe they are close to a deal, but need a little extra push to get it done.

“Ford almost has to go last,” said Dzicek. “Ford is the one company that did not go through the government structured bankruptcy.”

There is also a separate issue involving bonuses for salaried workers that will go to arbitration this week. Delaying the Ford deadline allows that to be resolved, and not interfere with other issues.

The UAW appears to be working on getting a deal with General Motors first, that could be more easily patterned at Chrysler, then adapted to work at Ford. Major issues include ways to reward workers, without adding increased costs. That could mean large bonuses instead of pay raises.

The union, however, would like to see some increase in pay for entry level workers, who make half of what long-term workers make. The number of entry level workers is expected to increase dramatically in coming years, as companies add more work, and older workers retire.


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