Ford Motor Co. workers in Louisville were cautiously heartened early Wednesday after hearing that the United Autoworkers reached a tentative four-year deal that includes ways to phase out the controversial tiered wage system.

The agreement, which will go to a ratification vote by 39,000 union autoworkers at Fiat Chrysler, is significant as the first in contract talks. The company’s agreement is seen as a template for the next rounds with Ford and General Motors. On Monday, the UAW announced that it agreed to extend its contract with Ford, while discussions continued with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, also known as FCA.

UAW President Dennis Williams and FCA’s CEO Sergio Marchionne didn’t release exact details pending review by the union’s rank and file. But they indicated during an early morning news conference in Detroit that the deal addresses the two-tier wage system — which pays about $17 an hour to newer workers compared with more than $30 an hour for legacy or tier-one workers.

The changes hold big implications for Louisville’s economic prosperity because there are roughly 8,700 hourly workers at the Kentucky Truck Plant and the Louisville Assembly Plant. Roughly 2,000 workers at the LAP are pulling down paychecks under the lower-wage scale.

The lower wages for entry-level employees took effect in 2007 as the industry began shedding workers, closing factories, and sought the union’s help to survive. The concession was continued in the 2011 contract, which expired this week.

Comments on a handful of Louisville-based autoworker Facebook pages reflected workers’ curiosity, hope and skepticism about how the development might impact their paychecks. Many have insisted in strings of comments that it’s high time workers get a bigger cut since Ford’s sales and profits have soared.

“All I got to say is that we scratch and fight for nickels and dimes and they are pocketing an empire,” Dean Walters, an LAP worker, said in a Facebook message.

The Detroit Free Press reported that Marchionne indicated during a morning news briefing that the deal includes a path to higher wages for entry level workers, but it wasn’t clear how quickly lower-paid workers would transition to the higher scale.

“I think that the team has crafted what I consider to be a very carefully thought-through process whereby that issue will go away,” the CEO said, according to the paper’s report.

Ford officials have been guarded about discussing the potential for boosting pay rates for the second-tier workers, but they’ve made it clear they’re reluctant to commit to millions of dollars in increased payroll obligations. The have said the billions invested in new assembly plants, equipment and product launches wouldn’t have happened if they were saddled with higher labor costs.

Ford officials released a statement saying that “we look forward to negotiating a fair and competitive labor agreement that enables us to continue providing jobs and investment here in the U.S., and that ensures a prosperous future for the company, our employees and our communities.”

Reporter Grace Schneider can be reached at 502-582-4082, or by email, gschneider@courier-journal.com.