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UAW strike enters Day 3: layoffs; talks ongoing

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Auto workers are striking for a third day at three Midwestern auto plants.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing) We are the union. We are the union. Mighty, mighty union. Mighty, mighty union.

DETROW: Talks between the automakers and the United Auto Workers Union are ongoing, but not a whole lot of progress has been made yet. NPR's Andrea Hsu has been following this story and joins us now. Hey, Andrea.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: Hi.

DETROW: So Day 3 of the strike - what's the latest?

HSU: Well, this really is an unprecedented strike. It's the first time the UAW has walked out on all three of the big three automakers at once. But at the same time, it's limited and targeted. So workers at just three plants are striking at the moment. It's a GM plant in Missouri, a Ford plant in Michigan and a Stellantis plant in Toledo, Ohio. And together, they employ about 13,000 workers, or 9% of the union workforce, at these three auto companies. But here's a twist, Scott - the automakers have already announced layoffs at other plants, which they say is a consequence of this strike.

DETROW: OK. And just to underscore that, we are talking about plants that are not the plants where the strike is happening.

HSU: That's right. The companies are saying this is a ripple effect. The plants that are on strike assemble cars, but they also make components for some of these other plants. So for example, the Ford workers, who are on strike in Michigan, well, some of them are responsible for coating materials that then go on to workers in a different part of that plant who are not on strike. And Ford's saying that those workers can't do their jobs without the coating process, so Ford has already told 600 people not to report to work. And likewise, GM is saying it's going to have to lay off 2,000 workers in Kansas this week because it can't get parts that are made by workers in Missouri who are on strike.

DETROW: So what is the UAW saying in response? And is there any sense yet whether these kinds of layoffs could change their strategy?

HSU: I mean, it could eventually, but it doesn't appear to yet. The UAW is saying these layoffs are unnecessary, that the companies are just trying to put the squeeze on workers, trying to get them to settle for less. But an important point is that car companies usually pay workers when they temporarily idle a plant. But GM at least has made clear they're not going to pay them this time because this is due to a strike. Now, the UAW has stepped up and said it would make sure that the laid-off workers don't go without income. But it's unclear how much the union's going to provide. The union's already paying workers who are on strike about $500 a week.

DETROW: What are the other major sticking points here?

HSU: Well, I'd say the biggest sticking point is still pay. The car companies have sweetened their offers. They started out offering 10% wage increases over four years. Now they're up to 20 and 21%. But the UAW is asking for 40% compounded over four years, so that's still a really big gap.

DETROW: Yeah.

HSU: And the carmakers are saying what they've offered is historically generous at a time when they're facing this very expensive transition to electric vehicles. Ford has said the UAW's demands would bankrupt the company right when they need to be investing profits to secure the company's future. But, of course, the UAW's president, Shawn Fain, has rejected those arguments. He's been hammering this message that the carmakers have been hugely profitable over the last decade and that they need to share more of those profits with the rank and file. He was on Sunday shows this morning. Here he was on CBS's "Face The Nation."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FACE THE NATION")

SHAWN FAIN: If we don't get better offers and we don't get down and take care of the members' needs, then we're going to amp this thing up even more.

HSU: And, Scott, what he means by that is he may add more plants to the strike, and that really could happen at any time. You know, Shawn Fain sees this as going beyond just the autoworkers. For him, it's really a struggle between the working class and what he calls the billionaire class.

DETROW: That's NPR's Andrea Hsu covering this ongoing strike. Thank you so much.

HSU: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Hsu is NPR's labor and workplace correspondent.