For investors watching the labor negotiations unfold at Detroit's Big Three automakers, the best is likely being saved for last. Chrysler said Monday that the United Auto Workers union has set a deadline of 11 a.m. EDT Wednesday for the two sides to reach an agreement on a new labor contract. If the negotiations at General Motors ( GM) are any guide, that means a nationwide labor strike could loom as the parties work toward a deal. It also means talks at Ford ( F) have been pushed to the back burner -- putting it in a position to score the most points in Detroit's bid to pare down the U.S. auto industry's bloated cost structure. "Anything the UAW gives to one company in the beginning will make it easier for the other companies to get later on," says David Cole, the chairman of the Center for Automotive Research. Ford spokeswoman Marcy Evans declined to comment. A spokesman for the UAW could not be reached. Shares of GM have jumped 23% since the beginning of September as investors bid up the stock even in the face of a two-day strike, certain of the favorable outcome for the company that promptly emerged. In comparison, shares of Ford have climbed just 6% in that time, giving it more room to run if it ultimately reaches a deal as good as, or better than, GM's.