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TORONTO, Sept 30 (Reuters) - The Canadian Auto Workers union on Monday reached a tentative three-year contract deal withMotor Co. of Canada that averts a strike, extends the life of a truck plant threatened with closure and saves almost 1,400 jobs.
"We put the challenge out toand I am absolutely elated that Ford Motor Company rose to the occasion and met that challenge," Buzz Hargrove, head of the Canadian Auto Workers union, told reporters.
The deal, to be ratified by the Ford workers this weekend, beats a strike deadline set for midnight on Tuesday that could have crippled the automaker's North American operations.
The Ford contract mirrors closely a three-year deal that workers atof Canada ratified last week.
It will offer workers a three-percent wage increase in the first two years and two percent in the third year. Workers will also get a C$1,000 ($633.00) signing bonus, 28 hours in additional paid time off and improved healthcare benefits.
But more importantly for the union, the agreement ensures the future of the Oakville Truck Plant until 2004 and will then offer many of the workers a job at an adjoining facility.
After this deal is ratified, the union will turn its sights on DaimlerChrysler Canada , with an eye to wrapping up negotiations by mid-October in the final stage of its talks with the Big Three automakers.
Canadian and U.S. car plants are so closely integrated that disruptions to output or the movement of auto parts in one country quickly has a knock-on effect in the other.
The life of the Oakville truck plant had been on shaky ground since Ford said in January that it would close the plant, on the western outskirts of Toronto, next year.
This was a key issue in the talks and the union vowed to fight aggressively to keep the plant open. It said it would settle for nothing less than a guaranteed number of jobs.
The new agreement includes a C$600 million investment in late 2003 to build a new line of mini-vans at an adjacent plant in Oakville and it extends the life of the doomed truck plant until July 2004.
The company will then shift 900 of the 1,400 workers to the mini-van plant, which is slated to add a third shift.
Hargrove is confident that all 1,400 would eventually find work through attrition and retirement.