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UAW May Set Deadline for Labor Contract

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now let's jump to our Wednesday focus on the workplace. Today the workplace is the subject of negotiation. Contract talks continue in Detroit between the United Auto Workers and General Motors about conditions for auto workers.

The union says there are still major issues, as NPR's Frank Langfitt reports.

FRANK LANGFITT: It's been four days since the union's contract expired with GM. Both sides have been extending it hour by hour, but negotiations show no end in sight. In a letter to local presidents, the union's negotiating committee said it might be forced to set a deadline. But it wasn't clear if that meant a deadline to strike, which most think unlikely, or a deadline for the union to stop talking to General Motors and move on to Ford. Meanwhile, on factory floors many younger workers are confused.

Ms. NORBETA SMITH(ph) (Union Representative): Is this true? Is that true? Are they really going to lay us off? Are we really going to get some money?

LANGFITT: That's Norbeta Smith. She's a union representative at a Cadillac plant in Detroit. These are the questions she's getting. Yesterday, excited fellow workers came to her with news of a big signing bonus.

Ms. SMITH: Then when we saw that in the newspaper today, we was like, okay, there it is in black and white. But is that true? That's our next question.

LANGFITT: Most workers expect a signing bonus, but predicting its size is tough. Neither side is talking publicly, and a signing bonus may need to be generous. The company wants to rid itself of some $50 billion in health care obligations to retirees. That plan is controversial among workers and won't be easy to ratify.

Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Detroit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.