DETROIT — The United Auto Workers set a deadline of this morning to strike General Motors Corp. if a new contract isn’t reached, even as the two sides continued bargaining late Sunday night, according to a local union Web site.
The deadline to reach an agreement was set for 11 a.m. today, according to a posting on the Web site of UAW Local 160 in Warren.
GM spokesman Dan Flores said the automaker is working with the union to resolve issues. Talks were continuing as of 12:30 a.m. today, Flores said.
“The contract talks involve complex, difficult issues that affect the job security of our U.S. work force and the long term viability of the company,” Flores said. “We are fully committed to working with the UAW to develop solutions together to address the competitive challenges facing General Motors. We will continue focusing our efforts on reaching an agreement as soon as possible.”
UAW President Ron Gettelfinger said as recently as Friday that the union was trying to speed up negotiations and reach an agreement without a strike. The union may be trying to ratchet up the pressure on GM to get a deal done.
The UAW’s contract with GM was set to expire Sept. 14, but the union has been extending it on an hour-by-hour basis since then.
A local UAW official said earlier Sunday that negotiators have wrapped up work on most issues and were determining how much money GM must put into a trust fund for retiree health care that will be managed by the UAW. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are private.
The health care fund — known as a Voluntary Employees Beneficiary Association, or VEBA — would be a groundbreaking change for the auto industry and has been the major issue in this year’s negotiations. GM has around $51 billion in unfunded retiree health care costs but the company isn’t required to put the full amount into the VEBA. The UAW and GM have been wrangling over how much GM should put in and how much can be paid in cash or in stock.
The UAW picked GM as the lead company and potential strike target in the negotiations, which began in July. Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler LLC have indefinitely extended their contracts with the union.
GM, which has about 339,000 UAW retirees and spouses, badly wants to pay the union to form the VEBA to get the health care liabilities off its books. In exchange, the UAW has sought production guarantees at U.S. plants.
The UAW represents 73,000 GM workers at 82 U.S. facilities nationwide.
If a tentative agreement is reached, local union leaders will meet for a briefing and then present it to their members. Any agreement would have to be ratified by a majority of GM’s UAW members.