The head of the UAW's Ford Motor Co. department said the two sides have made "significant progress" in their talks as they await resolution of the strike at General Motors, now in its 18th day.
Rory Gamble, the UAW-Ford vice president, told members Thursday that the union and company have tentative agreements on 18 of 20 subcommittees and that "only patterned or large economic items remain open for discussion." Subcommittees involve non-economic issues such as health and safety, attendance, quality and sourcing.
The union's decision to select GM as the target doesn't prohibit initial discussions from continuing at Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, but both negotiating groups typically wait on the lead company to finish so they can use that deal as a "pattern" tailored to their own needs.
"We will continue to meet diligently on all outstanding subcommittee issues," Gamble said. "What I can report for now is that UAW-Ford negotiations are progressing very well."
Talks have stalled with GM as the two sides dig in over issues including temporary workers, health care, plant investment and securing a quicker path to top wages for new hires. The union this week said the most recent proposal from GM "came up short" in many key areas and that it's awaiting word from the company on its counterproposal.
Gamble said the Ford team is "ready and able to complete our negotiations when called upon" and that the union's practice of patterned bargaining gives the rank and file "the best chance to procure strong collective bargaining agreements for all three companies."
If Ford is selected next, the automaker will have some unique challenges that could make simply copying the eventual deal with GM challenging.
The automaker employs more hourly workers than GM and builds more products in the U.S. than GM, which could make wage rates or investment commitments more difficult to match.
GM, in its most recent public proposal, said it would retain carryover health care benefits. That would be a tough pill to swallow for Ford, which is looking to cut health care costs that it says will balloon to $1 billion annually next year.
However, Ford might have an easier time than GM reaching a deal on other parts of a new contract. Ford uses fewer temporary workers than GM and has made a point of hiring them to full-time status in recent years.
Ford has about 3,400 temps, representing 6 percent of its U.S. hourly work force, compared with GM's 7 percent. Ford has hired 3,700 other temporary workers as full-time employees under the 2015 contract.
"Our focus is reaching a fair agreement with the UAW that allows the company to be more competitive so we can continue to preserve and protect good-paying manufacturing jobs and maintain our track record of investing in our U.S. plants," a Ford spokeswoman said in a statement.