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UAW President Shawn Fain chairs the 2023 Special Elections Collective Bargaining Convention, in Detroit, Mich., on March 27.REBECCA COOK/Reuters

United Auto Workers (UAW) president Shawn Fain said on Wednesday the union is still seeking significant pay hikes as talks continue with the Detroit Three automakers, a day before four-year labour deals are set to expire.

“We’re making progress but it’s slow. The clock is ticking,” Mr. Fain told ABC News. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

Mr. Fain has vowed to call strikes at General Motors GM-N, Ford Motor F-N and Chrysler-parent Stellantis STLA-N if no deal is reached. Reuters reported late on Tuesday that the union may opt to strike at targeted auto plants if they fail to reach new contracts covering 146,000 U.S. auto workers.

Stellantis confirmed Wednesday it had made a third offer. “We’re awaiting their response to this latest offer,” the company said. “Our focus remains on bargaining in good faith to have a tentative agreement on the table before tomorrow’s deadline.”

U.S. President Joe Biden has “encouraged the parties to stay at the table and to work 24/7 to get a win-win agreement that keeps UAW workers at the heart of our auto future,” White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein said Wednesday.

A UAW strike that shuts the Detroit Three manufacturers could cost carmakers, suppliers and workers more than US$5-billion, Michigan-based Anderson Economic Group estimated, and could lead to a disruption of the broader auto supplier network.

Mr. Biden called top executives from all three automakers last week to “encourage them to provide more forward-leaning offers to stay at the table,” Mr. Bernstein added.

AFL-CIO president Liz Shuler told Reuters automakers do not want to go on strike “but they will if they have to in order to reach a fair deal.”

Ms. Shuler noted there have been more than 200 strikes this year in the United States. “It’s because the economy is broken. Workers are fed up,” she said.

The UAW and GM were meeting Wednesday in a new round of bargaining, sources said.

The UAW said it is planning a rally in Detroit Friday that will include Mr. Fain, Senator Bernie Sanders and other members of Congress that would coincide with a first day of walkouts. The UAW is considering initially targeting only some specific plants for work stoppages at the three Detroit automakers, two sources briefed on the matter said, adding the strike plan could still change.

Targeting strategic plants could quickly force automakers to halt U.S. production and could extend the time before the UAW’s US$825-million strike fund is exhausted.

The UAW initially sought a 20-per-cent wage hike upon ratification and four annual 5-per-cent hikes, but had offered to trim those hikes to around 36 per cent in total, three sources told Reuters. Mr. Fain said the union was still seeking 40 per cent hikes in total. “We’ve been at 40 per cent – that is our demand,” Mr. Fain told CNBC.

Stellantis said on Friday it had offered U.S. hourly workers a 14.5-per-cent wage hike over four years, while GM had offered workers a 10-per-cent wage hike and two additional 3-per-cent annual lump-sum payments over four years. Stellantis last week did not offer additional lump-sum payments.

Ford last week hiked its offer to a 10-per-cent wage hike and lump sum payments after offering a 9-per-cent wage increase through 2027 and 6-per-cent lump sum payments.

The union’s demands include restoring defined benefit pensions for all workers, 32-hour work weeks and additional cost-of-living hikes, as well as job security guarantees and an end to the use of temporary workers.

Co-ordinated strikes would mark the first-ever simultaneous labour stoppage at all three Detroit automakers and one of the largest U.S. industrial labour actions in recent years.

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