By Jeff Gilbert

DEARBORN (WWJ) — This could be a pivotal week in efforts to guarantee labor peace in the domestic auto industry for the next four years. As GM workers vote on a tentative deal, the UAW appears to be making progress in talks with Ford and Chrysler.

At this point, the talks at Ford appear further ahead. And, a bulletin from the union says they are going to move things up a notch this week.

“Vice President Settles and the company have agreed to hold very long negotiating sessions,” read the notice. “Once a deal is close, negotiating sessions are expected to last around the clock.”

The union and Ford have now reached the point where they are discussing economic issues. That’s normally an indication that talks are reaching a conclusion. But, negotiations typically slow down at this point, as both sides try to make sure they understand what they are agreeing to.

At Chrysler, both sides negotiated through the weekend. While neither side is saying very much, late Friday both sides issued a similar statement—in response to reports that talks had broken down.

“Chrysler Group LLC and the UAW are continuing their meetings and productive discussions are ongoing,” read the statement. “Today (Friday), Sergio Marchionne, Chairman and CEO of Chrysler Group, and Bob King, UAW President, met. Recent media reports regarding the status of the negotiations are inaccurate.”

Neither side is commenting on reports that the parties were having trouble working out several issues related to lower paid, second tier workers. Should they not be able to agree on this—or any other issue—it would have to go to binding arbitration.

The deadline in the UAW-Chrysler talks has been extended to October 19th.

Because of agreements made during the restructuring of GM and Chrysler, the UAW is only allowed to strike Ford this time around. The Ford contract has been extended indefinitely. The union would need to give three days notice, if it were to set a strike deadline.

While there has been no threat of a strike, the UAW bulletin sent to workers during the weekend said it was important to be prepared.

“Vice President Settles has also given notice to all Local Presidents that they should begin assembling their strike committees, and preparing any documentation regarding strike rules and assistance for our membership in the event we are forced to call for a strike.”

But the bulletin also stressed that the union is not yet ready to make any kind of strike threat.

“At this time, there is no indication that a strike will be necessary, but it is in our best interest to prepare ourselves ahead of time just in case.”

At General Motors, locals in Flint and Lansing have already given their approval to the new tentative deal. The UAW hopes to have all of the votes in by Thursday.

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