Negotiators for General Motors Corp and the United Auto Workers union, staring down a Tuesday deadline for the struggling automaker to submit a plan for its survival to the U.S. government, were making progress in high-stakes talks aimed at cutting GM's costs and debt, a person familiar with the matter said.
On Sunday, there were some signs that the two sides were making headway on the central question of how the cash-strapped automaker will fund a trust for retiree health care, according to a person briefed on the discussions.
Separately, GM's board of directors was scheduled to convene by conference call on Monday to review a draft plan of the automaker's revised restructuring plan due to be submitted to U.S. officials on Tuesday.
GM is seeking concessions from the UAW and its debtholders as required under the terms of its $13.4 billion loan package from the U.S. Treasury.
The UAW and GM declined to comment on the state of the negotiations, which are seen as central to GM's effort to reduce its debt and operating costs.
Talks between the union and the struggling automaker had broken off on Friday but resumed Sunday just before the White House announced its plans for how it will review GM's restructuring plan due on Tuesday.
President Barack Obama named a task force to oversee the restructuring of the auto industry. The panel will be headed by U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers.
In addition, Ron Bloom, a restructuring expert with experience advising the United Steelworkers union, has also been named as an adviser to the Treasury on the auto crisis.
Bloom is an expert on the same kind of health-care trust fund -- widely known by the acronym VEBA for Voluntary Employee Benefit Association -- that remains at the center of the auto negotiations in Detroit.
GM and the UAW agreed to create the retiree health-care fund as part of a landmark 2007 labor agreement. But the steep slide in auto sales in 2008 overwhelmed GM's attempts to raise cash on its own, leaving it unable to survive without federal loans and unable to fund its commitment to the union.
The UAW is owed roughly $20 billion from GM for a retiree health-care fund. It faces pressure from GM to take half of that in equity in a recapitalized company under the terms of the GM bailout.
GM has been kept afloat with $9.4 billion in emergency federal funding. It has promised another tranche of $4 billion as soon as this week from the U.S. Treasury.
GM has also been in talks with its bondholders in an attempt to cut $28 billion in unsecured debt by two-thirds.
A parallel set of talks have been under way at GM's smaller rival Chrysler LLC with the union and its creditors.
Chrysler, which is controlled by private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, has been granted $3 billion and is seeking an additional $4 billion in government funding.
Both GM and Chrysler have buyout and early retirement offers to almost all of their nearly 91,000 hourly workers as they struggle to cut costs and bring in lower-cost workers.