Ford Motor Co. is restoring college tuition help for factory workers in an effort to settle a dispute with the United Auto Workers union.

Union leaders were told of the move at a meeting Thursday in Chicago.  The company announced the change in a letter to the union that was obtained by The Associated Press.

The UAW agreed to give up the tuition payments and make other concessions to help Ford through tough financial times last year.  But the company's fortunes have improved since then. In December it restored merit raises, tuition benefits and 401-K matches for white collar workers.

That brought a protest from the union, which said the move violated its contract and was unfair because union workers had given up similar benefits.  How much Ford reimburses white-collar workers for part of their higher education tuition was not immediately available.

Ford spokeswoman Marcey Evans said Thursday that the company does not believe it violated the UAW contract by restoring the white-collar benefits, but it is working with the union to restore tuition payments. "We don't have anything final that we can announce at this time," she said.

A UAW spokeswoman did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

King had said earlier this week that he was very unhappy about Ford restoring the white-collar merit raises while union workers made "tremendous sacrifices." He said Tuesday that part of the dispute could be settled this week, but some might end up in arbitration.

"We're working together," he said. "We're going to have differences of opinion."

In 2009, UAW members gave up cost-of-living increases and performance bonuses of 3 percent of base earnings in 2009 and 2010.  The union gave up other benefits such as tuition reimbursement and the jobs bank, a program that paid laid-off workers most of their pay even after unemployment benefits ran out, was eliminated.

Ford said at the time that union contract changes were expected to result in annual cost savings of $500 million.