Ford Motor Co., the most profitable U.S. carmaker, heads into contract talks with the United Auto Workers this week in the worst position among the companies.

Because Ford didn’t take a government bailout, it lacks two weapons rivals have: binding arbitration and a ban on strikes.

As part of U.S.-backed bankruptcies in 2009, workers at General Motors Co. and Chrysler Group agreed not to strike over wages and benefits during these contract talks and to take unsettled disputes from the bargaining table to arbitration. Workers at Ford went against the wishes of union leaders and rejected the strike ban and arbitration, so Ford is the only U.S. automaker that faces threat of a strike.

“There’s no doubt that Ford would be better off if they had binding arbitration,” labor analyst Kristin Dziczek said. “Ratifying a deal at Ford is a bit more dicey than the other two, because they’ve proven they’ll turn down an agreement.”

The union usually picks one automaker to create a deal it uses as a template with the other two. This pattern bargaining has kept wages and benefits close to parity among the three automakers, which now employ about 113,000 American hourly workers.

This time, the parity could be disrupted.

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