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(Recasts after press conference.)
By Allison Martell and Allison Lampert
TORONTO/MONTREAL, Oct 31 (Reuters) - Canada's main auto workers' union had not reached a contract deal with Ford Motor Co just under two hours ahead of a midnight strike deadline, a union representative said on Monday.
Spokeswoman Denise Hammond said the union was still discussing investment in Ford's Canadian operations and the economics of the contract.
"We are narrowed in on the most important issues in bargaining," she said at a media briefing. "We will either reach a tentative agreement or we will be on strike."
Earlier in the evening she said progress had been "painfully slow."
Ford spokeswoman Kerri Stoakley said by email on Monday the automaker would work "collaboratively with Unifor."
More than 6,000 Ford workers represented by Unifor could walk off the job early on Tuesday if talks fail, though a strike at midnight is seen as unlikely. Labor analyst Arthur Schwartz described the automaker as "strike-averse" and Ford said its last Canadian strike was in 1990.
But there are signs union leaders may face challenges ratifying a deal similar to those reached with General Motors Co and Fiat Chrysler .
Unifor practices so-called pattern bargaining, selecting one automaker to negotiate with and then holding the others to the terms of that deal. The union has already reached deals with GM and Fiat Chrysler featuring new investments.
With Ford, Unifor must secure a deal that can win support from workers at an Oakville, Ontario assembly plant, which does not need new investment in the short term.
Some of the plant's 5,000 workers have argued that the GM and Fiat Chrysler deals will make new hires wait too long to reach the top of the pay grid. About 2,200 Oakville workers are recent hires. If they vote down a deal, that would trigger a strike.
But Ford has said even the labor costs attached to the 10-year salary grid approved by GM and Fiat Chrysler are too high, Unifor National President Jerry Dias said on Monday.
"We're not going to change this (10-year) grid," Dias said.
Unifor is also seeking investment for engine plants in Windsor, Ontario, which have about 1,700 workers.
Analysts said a short-term strike would have limited impact on Ford. The Oakville plant is Ford's global supplier of the strong-selling Ford Edge crossover, but data from Automotive News shows the vehicle has a 78-day supply. (Reporting by Allison Lampert in Montreal and Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Editing by Paul Simao, Alan Crosby and Michael Perry)