Tuesday September 18, 2012

TORONTO (AP) -- The Canadian Auto Workers union said that it reached a tentative contract deal with Ford Motor Co., but a midnight strike deadline looms with Detroit’s two other automakers.

CAW President Ken Lew enza said he expects the four-year agreement with Ford -- which lowers wages for new hires and freezes wage increases -- will serve as a template for General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC. He said if there is "light at end of the tunnel" the union will extend the midnight deadline, but it will also consider a strike.

"If they say it is unacceptable, we will have no choice to withdraw our labor," Lewenza said. "Don’t force us to use that last tool."

The union earlier told its members that it was optimistic strikes could be averted after the CAW decided to focus on talks with Ford. The automaker recognizes that the union won’t accept a permanent lower wage for new hires, the union said.

Under the agreement reached Monday, Ford will pay new workers 60 percent of the current top wage of $33.89 Canadian dollars ($34.74) an hour, according to the CAW. That would mean new workers would be paid around $20.84. They can move up the wage scale and reach the top wage in 10 years.

U.S. workers at the Detroit automakers approved a similar wage agreement five years ago, but in those agreements, workers don’t automatically get the top wage after 10 years.

There are no base wage increases during the life of the agreement, which lasts until Sept 2016, but each employee will receive a $2,000 lump sum payment which will cover cost of living increases and a $3,000 ratification bonus.