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The Globe and Mail

CAW suspends high-level talks with Chrysler, GM to focus on Ford deal

Factory employees work on Ford Crown Victoria vehicles on Thursday, September 8, 2011 at the Ford Assembly Plant in St. Thomas, Ont. The Canadian Auto Workers and the three big North American automakers are continuing contract talks in the shadow of a possible strike, but there's word of some progress.

Dave Chidley/The Canadian Press

The Canadian Auto Workers has narrowed its focus to Ford Motor Co., as talks with the Detroit Three auto makers edge closer to a strike deadline Monday night.

The union hopes to reach a deal with Ford that will serve as a framework for agreements with Chrysler Group LLC and General Motors Co. But in an unusual twist, CAW president Ken Lewenza said if the union reaches a deal with Ford before 11:59 p.m. Monday and one or both of Chrysler and GM reject it, the union will go on strike against either or both those companies.

If there's no deal with Ford, the union's earlier threat to go on strike simultaneously at all three companies still holds.

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A deal would avert a threatened strike that would put 20,000 auto workers on the street and deal a blow to an already sluggish economic recovery.

Sources said Ford has been the most flexible company all along, even as it insisted that its hourly labour costs in Canada match those at its U.S. operations.

The union is pushing hard, however, to win new investments from Ford.

About 1,200 CAW members at Ford's Canadian operations are on layoff.

"We've got to find them work," Gary Beck, chairman of the CAW's Ford bargaining committee said earlier Sunday. "If we don't have that in this agreement then we won't have any agreement."

The union's GM membership is seeking new investments in Oshawa, Ont., where a car assembly plant will close next year.

The CAW has offered to cut hourly labour costs for the three companies by reducing wages for newly hired employees to less than 70 per cent of the $34 an hour paid to longer term workers.

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In addition, the union told the companies it would stretch the time it takes new employees to reach the full wage rate out to 10 years from the current six.

It also offered different pension schemes that would reduce the companies' costs.

"There hasn't been a proposal to the Chrysler bargaining committee that provides any reason for hope at this particular time," CAW president Ken Lewenza said earlier Sunday

He said CAW negotiators met with Ford Motor Co. officials Saturday night and settled some issues but several more remain outstanding.

Gary Beck, chairman of the union's Ford bargaining committee said the company has not offered any plans to invest in Ford manufacturing facilities in Canada.

Ford  is insisting that the union first agree to make labour costs more competitive in Canada, Mr. Beck said.

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Negotiators are trying to avert the first ever simultaneous strike by the union against all three auto makers.

About 20,000 employees at Detroit Three operations in the Ontario cities of Oshawa, Oakville, Brampton, Windsor, St. Catharines and Toronto are poised to go on strike.

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