DETROIT (AP) – The expiration deadline of labor contracts between the United Auto Workers union and Detroit’s Big Three automakers passed at midnight yesterday without an immediate update about the status of the months-long talks.

A briefing scheduled to take place late yesterday at the UAW-GM Center for Human Resources near downtown, where General Motors Corp. and the UAW have been negotiating, hadn’t begun as the deadline passed.

UAW President Ron Gettelfinger on Saturday left the door open for a simultaneous, three-way resolution, or a new pact with at least one of the companies before the current, four-year contracts expire.

Representatives of the UAW, GM, Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group said yesterday that talks continued, but they declined to discuss the status or the potential for an agreement with one or all three automakers. The sides have been meeting confidentially since mid-July.

The new pacts will cover wages and benefits for 300,000 workers plus pension payments and benefits for a half-million retirees and their spouses.

The union and Big Three automakers have never reached simultaneous contract agreements. The union typically chooses one carmaker as the lead negotiator and uses that pact as a model for the other two.

Gettelfinger acknowledged for the first time Saturday that the union had chosen a company as the lead negotiator soon after Labor Day, though he declined to name it.

Some analysts and labor experts say the new pacts likely will reflect the difficult predicaments of the automakers, whose combined U.S. market share fell to an all-time monthly low in August.

They said it was likely the union would grant concessions on wages and pension benefits in exchange for the continuation of nearly cost-free health care.

The current contracts, negotiated in 1999 during better times for the industry, included 3 percent annual pay hikes and a ban on plant closings.

Because of declining U.S. market share among the Big Three, and continued domestic expansion from foreign automakers, most observers have said the probability of a strike is low.








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