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UAW expands strikes to new locations

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

United Auto Workers say they're making progress in talks with Ford, not so much with General Motors and Stellantis, Chrysler's parent company. So UAW members at dozens more locations are going on strike, and President Biden is set to join the picket line. NPR's Camila Domonoske joins us. Camila, thanks so much for being with us.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Happy to be here, Scott.

SIMON: And what's the union's big move here?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. So a couple of things - one, they are splitting the Big Three up, like you said. Now, there's Ford on the one hand and the other two on the other hand. With Ford, the union says they've secured some big wins at the table in terms of equalizing pay across different locations, job security provisions, raises that are tied to inflation. And so they say they're basically going easy on Ford now - still at strike on one plant but not adding any more. On the other two, the union is expanding the strike to all of the companies' parts distribution centers. These are not plants that produce vehicles, but these are basically warehouses that ship out replacement parts to dealerships.

SIMON: And what do these strikes mean for drivers?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. So the strikes that started last week didn't have a huge impact and wouldn't for a very long time. But the strikes that just started yesterday could affect people who need a repair on a car. I spoke to Pete DeVito. He's with a different union that represents workers at car dealerships. And he said it's pretty simple.

PETE DEVITO: The technicians can't fix the cars without the parts.

DOMONOSKE: Now, dealers knew this was coming. Many of them stockpiled parts. But once they run through whatever they have locally, people might have to wait longer for a repair. And these parts that get shipped out from these distribution centers, they're tremendously profitable for companies, like people might have suspected if they looked at the price tag for some OEM parts, right?

SIMON: Yeah.

DOMONOSKE: Hugely profitable. So consumers are basically collateral damage here as the union is trying to hit the car companies right in the pocketbook.

SIMON: What can the companies do about this?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, we know that the automakers knew this was a possibility, and they were getting ready for this. And these distribution centers, you know, they aren't like an assembly line where it's basically impossible to get it back up and running if all your workers go out. In the 2019 UAW strike against General Motors, there were some salaried workers who were doing some work in these warehouses. I asked DeVito if he thinks the companies could avoid some snarls with their parts by basically doing that again, sending white-collar workers to run the warehouses. And he said this.

DEVITO: Do you remember when the NFL went on strike many years ago, and they brought in the replacement players?

DOMONOSKE: Full disclosure, Scott - I did not.

SIMON: Well, I...

DOMONOSKE: Do you remember this?

SIMON: Yes, I certainly remember it. And let's just say with all respect, the games were not very good.

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. DeVito put it like this.

DEVITO: Nobody watched. In this case, if you send in a team of accountants, nobody's going to get their parts.

DOMONOSKE: So he's not optimistic about that backup strategy. We'll just have to see. I asked the companies. General Motors said they have contingency plans that they are deciding whether to implement. They wouldn't discuss any further. Stellantis declined to comment.

SIMON: What's ahead, Camila?

DOMONOSKE: Well, you mentioned that President Biden is heading to Michigan to join the picket line, which is very unusual - as I understand it, possibly unprecedented to have a sitting president out on the line. The car companies are really frustrated with the union. Stellantis says they made a competitive offer and haven't heard back at all. GM has called the union's demands untenable. Even Ford, the company where the union said they're making real progress - Ford says there are significant gaps between the company and the union. So talks are continuing, but definitely a possibility that more strikes will come. The strikes will expand again. And it's super hard to predict exactly what that might look like.

SIMON: Camila Domonoske, thanks so much.

DOMONOSKE: Thanks, Scott. 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.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.