The United Auto Workers and Detroit's three car companies are likely to miss a Wednesday night deadline to agree on new contracts, three people briefed on the bargaining said Tuesday.
There are many issues to settle, most involving pay, before the current four-year contracts expire at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private.
Bargainers with Ford Motor Co. and the union agreed Tuesday to keep talking indefinitely after the deadline passes, and workers will stay on the job. Talks at General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group LLC also are expected to go on after the contracts expire, which is normal procedure in bargaining with the UAW. In 2007, when the last contracts were signed, negotiations stretched into October and even November at Ford.
One of the people briefed on the talks said bargainers at GM could still reach agreement by the deadline, but much work remains.
The contract talks will determine wages and benefits for 111,000 union workers at the companies, and they also set the bar for wages at auto parts companies, U.S. factories run by foreign automakers and other manufacturers, which employ hundreds of thousands more.
Bargainers at Ford are far behind the other two companies and have barely begun discussing pay issues. Workers at GM and Chrysler can't strike over wages under the terms of the companies' government bailouts. Ford workers have no such restriction.
Jimmy Settles, the UAW vice president handling Ford's negotiations, wrote in a letter to local union officials that they agreed with Ford to extend the contract, and he urged union members to keep working as normal.
"We are confident that once an agreement is reached, you will be pleased and supportive," he said.
Settles also wrote that Ford would not be the union's "target" company this year. In the past, the UAW has picked a company to bargain with first, and used that deal as a pattern for the others. This year, the target will be either GM or Chrysler, he wrote.
Also Tuesday, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told reporters at the Frankfurt Auto Show in Germany that bargainers are not close to an agreement.
Disputes between the union and GM and Chrysler could go to binding arbitration, although neither side is expected to call for that anytime soon.
Both sides bargained through the weekend, and UAW President Bob King was involved in the talks with GM and Chrysler, two of the people said. They returned to bargaining Monday, ending around 9:30 p.m. at GM, and went into the early morning hours at Chrysler.
Kristin Dziczek, labor and industry group director for the Center for Automotive Research, and industry think tank in Ann Arbor, Mich., said she expects the union to extend contracts beyond midnight Wednesday.
Bargaining so far, she said, hasn't gone around the clock, which was typical of previous negotiations.
"There are really pragmatic, practical people working on tough issues. In the past, it was an attitude of, `I'm tougher than you. I can wear you down.' This time you have people working on concerns for both sides," she said.
The talks are the first since the Detroit automakers ran into severe financial troubles in 2008 and 2009. GM and Chrysler needed government aid and a trip through bankruptcy court to survive, while Ford avoided both by taking out a huge loan.
Since then, all three companies have been turning profits, and the UAW has said it wants to share in the earnings.
King also has said he doesn't want to raise the companies' labor costs so they are no longer competitive with foreign automakers. Ford and GM want to cut their labor costs because they are higher than competitors with U.S. factories. Chrysler wants to keep its costs the same.
The union and companies are talking about profit sharing instead of hourly pay raises for longtime UAW members. They are also discussing signing bonuses and workers paying more for health care.
The union also wants pay raises for more than 3,000 entry-level workers who now make $14 to $16 per hour, about half the rate of a longtime UAW worker. It also is seeking commitments for more jobs at U.S. factories.
"We understand the importance of examining new methods of compensation that will reward workers during good years and not add to the structural costs of the company so it can better survive the lean years," UAW Vice President Joe Ashton, who is leading the GM negotiations, said in an update posted earlier this month on several local union websites. "We also understand the importance of fighting hard for benefits, but not wanting to bring negative attention to our members, the products we build, or the company."
Colleen Barry contributed to this report from Frankfurt, Germany.