Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne likely will win workers' backing over a plan to relaunch the group's main carmaking plant in Italy as a joint venture with Chrysler Group.
Fiat and Chrysler plan to build Alfa Romeo and Jeep models at the plant for European and North American sales in exchange for more labor flexibility.
Mirafiori workers will vote on Jan. 13-14 on an agreement that should pave the way for investment worth 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion).
Marchionne has already won backing from representatives of several metalworkers' unions for the Mirafiori deal, which would mean more shifts and less benefits in exchange for investment commitment and new models.
But hard-line leftist union Fiom, which can count on the support of just under 20 percent of workers at Mirafiori, vigorously rejected the labor agreement and called for a strike at the end of the month.
In a sign of the growing hostility provoked by the dispute, a red five-pointed star, a symbol of the 1970s leftist guerrilla group, the Red Brigades, was spray-painted at the weekend in central Turin next to the sign "Marchionne: Up yours."
Majority back deal
A source close to one of the unions said: "The feeling is that a majority of workers will back the deal, but there is no certainty since a large share of workers are not union members."
Workers represented by unions supporting Marchionne's plan for Mirafiori account for less than half of the total.
Fiom secretary general Maurizio Landini said his union still finds the deal unacceptable. "For us, the dispute with Fiat is still open. It is not a closed case," he said on Monday.
Fiat and Chrysler plan a new joint-venture company that will take control of the Mirafiori plant. The plant would produce the mid-sized Giulia sedan and station wagon, which will replace Alfa's 159 range, as well as medium SUVs for the Alfa and Jeep brands.
The Alfa SUV will be aimed at the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK. The Jeep model will replace the Compass/Patriot model. Output is scheduled to start in the third or fourth quarter of 2012. Half of the production will be sold in Europe and the other half will be exported, mainly to North America. The Alfa models are a crucial part of the brand's relaunch in North America.
Fiat is hiking its stake in U.S. carmaker Chrysler to 25 percent, and is also fighting dwindling car sales in its core European market.
The Mirafiori plan is part of Marchionne's larger "Fabbrica Italia" strategy to boost productivity at loss-making Italian car plants under which Fiat, the country's biggest industrial group, aims to invest 20 billion euros.
It mirrors a landmark accord Marchionne clinched last year at Pomigliano, near Naples, that was also put to a workers' vote and got backing from 63 percent of voters.
Marchionne has said he won't carry out Fiat's planned investment at Mirafiori if a majority of its 5,500 workers rejected the plan at this week's referendum.
Fiat still has to detail its investment plans for its other remaining Italian car plants as part of the larger initiative.
Earlier this month, Fiat set its sights on a majority stake in Chrysler after completing a long-planned demerger of its carmaking activities from its truck and tractor business.
Reuters contributed to this report