Citing a Monday Wall Street Journal report, Dow Jones said that the Big Three United States vehicle makers and the United Auto Workers union acknowledged a common threat from Japanese and European competition by breaking with tradition in labour negotiations to spend the weekend simultaneously working out contracts that would cover workers at all three companies.

There was no word yet of a final agreement that would replace the current, four-year contract, which expires on Sunday, Dow Jones said, noting that individuals familiar with the talks cautioned over the weekend that despite unusually fast progress in recent days, resolving final trade-offs on the core issues of pay, benefits, job security and pensions could delay a deal.

Dow Jones said the UAW has vowed not to accept reductions in current health-care benefits for members, but to be able to pay for that, the car makers want more latitude to reduce employment as thousands of UAW workers head for retirement during the next five years.

Still, Dow Jones noted, the fact the UAW and the car makers are even contemplating wrapping up a new master contract days ahead of the expiration of the current pact breaks with past practice and is a telling sign of the competitive pressures – particularly erosion of their market share by foreign brands – that threaten both sides.