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A historic strike against the Big 3 automakers got underway at midnight

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Some of the United Auto Workers are on a historic strike this morning.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The autoworkers union is striking at three assembly plants - one in Michigan, one in Missouri, one in Ohio, one Ford, one GM, one Stellantis. Other plants operate for now, although the union says it can expand the strike depending on the progress of talks. We've been reporting all week on the autoworkers' bid for higher pay and a shorter workweek.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Camila Domonoske is at the picket line at the Ford plant in Wayne, Mich. Camila, what are you seeing there?

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: This is a big plant. There are a lot of gates. There are folks out at every single gate with picket signs. They're getting a fair amount of support from people driving by. You might be able to hear honking, but there have been some hecklers, folks telling them to go back to work, as Jamie Rusco (ph), one of the workers here on the line, told me.

JAMIE RUSCO: They don't realize what we're really fighting for. It's our families and our our time away. We're here - I work with these guys sometimes 10 hours a night. I'm here with them more than my family.

DOMONOSKE: Mixed emotions on the line. You know, some people are scared. Some people are really amped up and ready for a fight.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. What are union members telling you about why they felt they had to do this?

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK HORN)

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. There is so much history playing out here along the line. Here's Ali al-Amara (ph), a worker who I spoke with.

ALI AL-AMARA: We want to see everything that we lost 15 years ago and we had to give back to the company.

DOMONOSKE: 2007, 2009, the union gave up a lot in order to help the car companies survive. And now workers say the companies have been thriving. They point to high CEO pay. That's something that both the union leadership and workers here on the line are talking a lot about. They're seeing these companies thrive, and they aren't. So that history is really playing out here in why the union is pushing so hard for some things that in some cases are a real throwback to the union heyday.

MARTÍNEZ: What are the specific demands of the UAW?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. So there's a big wage increase that they're pushing for. They're asking for about 40%. The companies have offered about 20%, a return to cost-of-living protections that are tied to inflation, bringing back of pensions, instead of 401(k)s, and retiree benefits, programs to pay people when they're not working when plants are shut down. It's a pretty long list. And these are big asks. These are things that the companies say they can't pay and be competitive.

MARTÍNEZ: And striking at only three plants. What's behind that strategy?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. It's unusual. It's unusual that the union is striking all three companies at once. That's different. It's also a real - this is, again, another throwback, a historical reference here. Starting with a small number of plants and expanding over time - that's something that the union used to do back in the '30s. And Shawn Fain, the president of the UAW - he said that this is meant to be maximum flexibility, keep the companies on their toes. And he wouldn't give reporters very many details about what the plans are because, again, part of the goal is to surprise the companies here. I have talked to some labor experts who point out that this is also a way to conserve resources. You might be able to strike for longer if you start smaller.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, actors and screenwriters are still on strike. UPS workers almost went on strike. What will the effect of this autoworkers strike be beyond this industry?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. The direct economic impacts depend on how big and how long it is. But what they win could also affect labor movements across the country, as well, by way of example.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK HORNS)

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Camila Domonoske in Wayne, Mich. Camila, thanks.

DOMONOSKE: Thanks.

INSKEEP: Great to hear the sound on the streets. 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.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.