The Canadian Auto Workers union yesterday agreed a provisional three-year contract deal with Ford’s Canadian operations that avoids a strike, reprives a truck plant threatened with closure and saves almost 1,400 jobs, Reuters reported.

“We put the challenge out to Ford and 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 Reuters.

Reuters said the deal, to be ratified by Ford workers this weekend, beats a strike deadline set for midnight on Tuesday that could have crippled the  car maker’s North American operations.

Reuters said that the Ford contract mirrors closely a three-year deal that workers at General Motors of Canada ratified last week and will offer workers a 3% wage increase in the first two years and 2% in the third year. Workers will also get a $C1,000 ($633.00) signing bonus, 28 hours in additional paid time off and improved healthcare benefits, Reuters added.

More importantly for the union, Reuters noted, 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 factory.

According to Reuters, Ford said in January that it would close the truck plant, on the western outskirts of Toronto, next year.

This became a key issue in the talks and the union vowed to fight aggressively to keep the plant open, saying it would settle for nothing less than a guaranteed number of jobs, Reuters said.

The new agreement includes a $600 million investment in late 2003 to build a new line of minivans at an adjacent plant in Oakville, Reuters said, and extends the life of the doomed truck plant until July 2004.

Reuters said Ford would then shift 900 of the 1,400 workers to the minivan plant which plans to add a third shift.

According to Reuters, Hargrove was confident that all 1,400 would eventually find work through attrition and retirement.