The United Auto Workers union has called local leaders to Detroit on Tuesday, a strong sign that a contract deal with Ford Motor Co. is near.
Such a meeting normally means an agreement has been reached, and union bargainers brief local leaders on the details. UAW spokeswoman Michele Martin said Monday that although no deal has been finalized with the company, the union is hoping it will have one to present to the leaders.
"To get all those people here from across the country, people have to make travel arrangements," Martin said. "I think they must have some hopeful anticipation to call the meeting."
Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans would say only that bargaining continues and it's progressing.
The four-year deal with Ford is expected to be sweeter than the contract approved by UAW employees at General Motors Co. last week. It's likely to have profit sharing instead of annual wage increases for Ford's 41,000 UAW members. It's also expected to bring down Ford's hourly labor costs, which are the highest in the U.S. auto industry.
Any deal must be approved by the membership, but that could be a problem because many expected the company to restore pay raises and other benefits they sacrificed to help Ford through tough financial times starting in 2007.
Talks between the union, Ford and GM have gone fairly smoothly this year, with Ford expected to settle more than a month ahead of the last contract reached in 2007. Four years ago, Ford and the union didn't reach agreement until Nov. 3.
Up next will be Chrysler, where the talks could be more contentious. The company isn't making as much money as Ford and GM and probably can't afford the same deals.
The UAW talks are watched closely because they set wages for more than 112,000 workers in the auto industry and set the bar for pay at auto parts makers and in other manufacturing industries.
The GM deal gives workers $5,000 signing bonuses, $1,000 a year for three years to cover inflation and at least $3,500 in profit-sharing this year. The worst GM workers can do is $11,500 over the four years of the contract. GM was able to avoid a pension increase for the first time since 1953, and Ford's terms are expected to match that.
More than 1,900 entry-level workers at GM, who make about half the roughly $29 per hour paid to a GM factory worker, got raises of more than 20 percent. Ford has only about 70 entry-level workers, and will try to lower its labor costs by hiring more of them.