The Canadian Auto Workers (CAW) union says it is making good progress in negotiations with one of Detroit's three big automakers as a strike deadline looms on Monday night.
CAW secretary-treasurer Peter Kennedy said on Saturday one of the auto companies, which the union wouldn't name, is reviewing the union's latest wage proposal following discussions on Saturday morning in Toronto.
The proposal would see new employees earn less when they are hired and take longer to reach the top of the pay scale.
Kennedy said the offer is key since once the wage issue is settled, the rest of the deal should be easy to nail down.
He said the union expects negotiations with the two other companies to move more quickly once one of the trio signs off on an agreement with the CAW.
Kennedy said the wage proposal is "the key that unlocks the door - once we get that confirmed with one of the three then we can go to town on all of the other issues".
"There's still a lot of big issues but that's been kind of the major hurdle we've had to get our arms around," he said, adding that the union disagrees with proposals by the automakers that their Canadian employees accept a permanent "two-tier" wage structure adopted in their US plants.
The CAW has threatened to go on strike if there is no deal by midnight on Monday, but has indicated it might hold off if progress is being made.
Ford, Chrysler and General Motors were not immediately available for comment.
The union said on Friday that a number of senior executives from General Motors, Chrysler and Ford are now in Toronto.
The CAW represents about 4500 workers at Ford, 8000 workers at GM and another 8000 at Chrysler. Its contracts with all three automakers expire at 11.59pm on Monday.
At issue is the future of Canada's auto industry.
The auto companies say Canada is now the most expensive place in the world to make cars and trucks, and they say they could move production south if the CAW doesn't cut costs. But the union is resisting demands for concessions, which they say include wage cuts for new hires, the elimination of cost-of-living adjustments and dramatic changes to pension plans.
Canada's advantages in the past, a weaker Canadian dollar and government health care, have all but vanished. In addition, the United Auto Workers union in the US has agreed to steeper concessions than the CAW, making US labour costs cheaper.
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