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Fast approaching UAW strike deadline could expand walkouts to more auto plants

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

We are now less than 24 hours away from a new deadline in the United Auto Workers strike against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis. At noon tomorrow, the UAW could expand the walkout to more locations unless the Big Three automakers make progress in meeting the union's demands. We're joined now by NPR's Danielle Kaye. Hey there. Welcome back.

DANIELLE KAYE, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So just get us up to speed. Where do things stand with this strike right now?

KAYE: So as of now, roughly 13,000 workers at three auto plants have walked off the job. But the union is warning that more of its 150,000 members could join the strike at noon tomorrow if they don't make substantial progress with the companies by then. It's part of the so-called Stand Up Strike strategy that's meant to keep the companies on their toes. And we're already seeing ripple effects. All three automakers - Ford, GM and Stellantis - have laid off workers at plants that aren't on strike because those plants need components that are made in plants that are on strike. So far, the UAW has rejected all three companies' proposals, but we should know more tomorrow morning.

KELLY: And one of the key issues, if not the biggest demand that unions are - that the union is asking for is a is a significant pay raise - 40%.

KAYE: Right.

KELLY: OK.

KAYE: Yeah, the UAW is pushing for a 40% pay raise over the length of the four-year contract. And that is pretty substantial. It's compared to single-digit raises in the last contract. The companies have gone up from their opening bids but nowhere near what the union wants so far. The UAW is making a few important points here. First, the automakers have done really well in the past few years. They made $21 billion in profit collectively in just the first half of 2023. And on top of that, sky-high CEO pay is on everyone's mind. Last year General Motors CEO Mary Barra made 362 times more than the company's median employee. Here's Gil Ramsey, a Ford employee who's on strike in Wayne, Mich.

GIL RAMSEY: For as much money as our CEO makes in a couple days, we don't even make that in a year or so. They owe us. You know, we haven't had a raise in years, a real raise. And everything that we gave up when the company was down on the ropes - we haven't even got that back yet. So...

KAYE: So Ramsey is talking about the concessions autoworkers made during the 2007-2008 financial crisis and during the recession that followed. The automakers were brought to their knees, and at that time, the UAW agreed to a freeze in base wages for workers and accepted all kinds of concessions. So autoworkers' wages, adjusted for inflation, have been falling for years now. And now UAW leadership says it's time for that to change.

KELLY: OK. So higher wages - much higher wages they're calling for. What are some of the other key demands?

KAYE: Well, autoworkers also gave up cost-of-living adjustments during the recession. So now the UAW wants those protections to be put back in place to make sure wages actually keep up with inflation over the next few years. All three automakers have proposed some sort of cost-of-living adjustment, but the union has said the offers so far don't meaningfully protect against inflation. On top of that, the UAW is trying to get rid of what it sees as a two-tier system for wages and benefits. This also dates back to the concessions during the financial crisis. People hired after 2007 have gotten lower wages and fewer benefits than veteran employees. Newer hires can eventually work their way up to the top pay rate but only after eight years. So all of these issues really matter to workers, and the union has a lot of momentum and public support right now.

KELLY: NPR's Danielle Kaye. Thank you.

KAYE: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF KANYE WEST SONG, "HEARD 'EM SAY (FEATURING ADAM LEVINE)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Danielle Kaye
Danielle Kaye (she/her) is a 2022-2023 Kroc Fellow. Before joining NPR, Kaye worked as a business reporter at Reuters, where she covered compensation policies and union organizing at technology and retail companies. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 2021 with degrees in Global Studies and French. While studying in Berkeley, Kaye reported and produced for listener-funded radio station KPFA, covering protests and housing issues in California for KPFA's morning public affairs show. She was also a researcher at UC Berkeley's Human Rights Investigations Lab and a news reporter and editor at the student-run newspaper The Daily Californian. Kaye lived with a host family in Dakar, Senegal, in 2019, which inspired her to write her senior thesis about threats to Senegal's artisanal fishing communities.