The United Steelworkers of America and the nation's 10 largest steel companies were reported close to settlement of a new three-year contract yesterday after making whatthe union described as "sufficient" progress on meeting its prime goal of more job and income security.

Lloyd McBride, president of the union, said the two sides were "close enough to an agreement" to warrant keeping the union's 600 local presidents in Washington another day to vote on a settlement.

A ratification session was tentatively scheduled for 9:30 a.m. today.

The negotiators bargained under flexible deadlines allowed in the industry's existing agreement to avoid strikes by sending any unresolved issues to arbitration.

Both sides have said that use of arbitration by a jointly chosen five-member panel would be ragarded as failure of the no-strike peace pact and would jeopardize continuation of the no-strike clause in the upcoming contract. So the negotiators postponed several previously scheduled ratification meetings over the past 24 hours in order to settle the contract without arbitration.

McBride emphasized that "a few but very important issues" remain to be settled as the negotiators went into a final evening bargaining session at the Shoreham Americana Hotel here.

While these issues could block an agreement, McBridge said he felt the industry negotiators "understood . . . the strength of our feeling" about the unresolved issues and would reach an accomodation.

McBride, briefing reporters before the final round of talks, said the last remaining areas of disagreement included the industry's practice of contracting out work that could be done by Steelworkers union members and categories of the work force that will be covered by the contract.

McBride did not spell out details of the unresolved issues, but indicated that neither wages nor the union's previously announced goal of "a job for life with a decent, respectable income for life" stood in the way of a settlement. It appeared that the union had to give considerable ground in its initial job security demands, although McBride's comments indicated that satisfactory progress was made.

The union's 517,000 workers in the basic steel industry, including 340,000 covered by the "Big 10" agreement under negotiation here, are among the highest paid industrial workers, earning more than $8 an hour.

Industry bargainers estimate that pay increases, cost-of-living protections and a one-time $150 no-strike bonus guaranteed by the existing contract will increase total worker compensation costs by a minimum of 26 per cent over the three-year life of the new contract.