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UAW strike, Day 4: GM threatens to send 2,000 workers home, Ford cuts 600 jobs

UAW President Shawn Fain marches with UAW members through downtown Detroit after a rally in support of United Auto Workers members as they strike the Big Three auto makers on September 15, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan.
Bill Pugliano
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UAW President Shawn Fain marches with UAW members through downtown Detroit after a rally in support of United Auto Workers members as they strike the Big Three auto makers on September 15, 2023 in Detroit, Michigan.

Updated September 18, 2023 at 11:39 AM ET

As the autoworkers strike enters Day 4, the two sides are digging in.

On one side are United Auto Workers members, who say record corporate profits should yield a record contract.

"We went backwards roughly $10 an hour in wages over the last six years," UAW President Shawn Fain told NPR. "At the same time, in the last decade, these companies have made a quarter-trillion dollars in profits."

On the other are the Big Three automakers — General Motors, Ford and Stellantis — which say they have put historically generous offers on the table, while also emphasizing that there are limits.

"Our goal is to secure a sustainable future that provides all our UAW-represented employees with an opportunity to thrive in a company that will be competitive during the automotive industry's historic transformation," Stellantis said in a statement.

Fain told Morning Edition on Monday that the union had "minimal conversations" with all three companies over the weekend and that the ball is still in their court.

Fain said the union wanted to start substantively bargaining two months ago, but the companies waited until just before their contracts expired last week to "actually start really talking."

"We have a long way to go," he said. "And if the company does not respect the demands of our workers, then we will escalate action."

In the meantime, the ripple effects have already started.

Workers are out of jobs, and companies won't pay them

Ford told 600 workers not to report to work at its Michigan Assembly Plant's body construction department because the metal parts they make need to be coated promptly for protection and the paint shop is on strike.

General Motors warned that 2,000 workers are expected to be out of work at its Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas this week. The company says that's due to a shortage of critical materials supplied by the stamping operations at its Wentzville plant in Missouri.

The historic strike kicked off right after the stroke of midnight on Friday morning, with 9% of the UAW's nearly 150,000 union members walking off their jobs. The three auto plants — the General Motors assembly plant in Wentzville, a Stellantis assembly plant in Toledo, Ohio, and part of a Ford plant in Wayne, Mich. — were the first to join the picket lines.

Normally, companies give partial pay to workers when a plant is idled.

But because in this case it's due to a strike, the companies say there is no such compensation. General Motors said in a statement, "We are working under an expired agreement at Fairfax. Unfortunately, there are no provisions that allow for company-provided SUB-pay in this circumstance."

Fain accused the companies of choosing temporary layoffs in an effort to intimidate workers. The UAW says it will make sure that affected workers don't go without an income.

"We'll take care of our workers no matter what we have to do," Fain said.

Here's the latest.

  • Union strategy: 13,000 autoworkers at the three Midwest plants, about 9% of the unionized workforce at the Big Three automakers, were the first to walk off the job. Now, more workers are temporarily out of work as the automakers are asking hundreds of non-striking workers not to show up to work.
  • Negotiation and demands: The UAW's call for a 40% pay increase is still intact as negotiations continue. Also on the docket are pensions, cost-of-living adjustments and quality-of-life improvements.
  • Reactions: President Biden urged automakers to share their profits with workers as the strike tested his bid to be the "most pro-labor" president. He is dispatching Julie Su, the acting labor secretary, and Gene Sperling, a White House senior adviser, to Detroit to help with negotiations.

NPR's Rachel Treisman contributed to this report.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Andrea Hsu is NPR's labor and workplace correspondent.