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Canadian auto union ‘hopeful’ on talks

TORONTO – The Canadian Auto Workers union decided late Monday to keep working past a midnight strike deadline after reaching a deal with Ford and extending its contracts with General Motors and Chrysler.

Workers will stay on the job as talks continue, but can go on strike after giving GM and Chrysler 24 hours’ notice, union President Ken Lewenza said late Monday. The union, he said, agreed to the contract extensions because top labor executives at both companies asked for more time to study the deal with Ford. The CAW wants the Ford contract to serve as a template for the other two companies.

Ford Motor Co. workers will vote on their agreement next weekend. It cuts wages for new hires and freezes pay for current workers. But it also gives them lump-sum payments to cover inflation and for ratifying the deal.

Lewenza said top negotiators for both GM and Chrysler came to Toronto to try to finalize a deal, and both requested more time to review the Ford pact and settle plant-level contracts.

“At the end of the day, we’re hopeful we’ll get a deal,” he said. “If it’s good enough for Ford, it’s good enough for General Motors and for Chrysler.”

But Lewenza warned that he won’t hesitate to strike if he feels the companies are procrastinating over the next two or three days.

“Our patience only has so much time,” he said.

Both General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group confirmed late Monday that they were continuing to talk but didn’t give further details.

Under the Ford deal, the company will pay new workers 60 percent of the current top wage of $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.

Industry analysts say a strike would be felt in U.S. factories in a week or less, and dealers could quickly run short of some models, largely because they haven’t built up stocks due to higher demand for cars and trucks in the U.S.