The UAW held talks with GM and Ford over the weekend but the strike persists NPR's Leila Fadel talks to Shawn Fain of the United Auto Workers, who was elected president less than six months ago on promises to end corruption, and win back concessions given to the Big 3.

The UAW held talks with GM and Ford over the weekend but the strike persists

The UAW held talks with GM and Ford over the weekend but the strike persists

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NPR's Leila Fadel talks to Shawn Fain of the United Auto Workers, who was elected president less than six months ago on promises to end corruption, and win back concessions given to the Big 3.

United Auto Workers members strike at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant on September 16, 2023 in Wayne, Michigan. This is the first time in history that the UAW is striking all three of the Big Three auto makers, Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, at the same time. Bill Pugliano/Getty Images hide caption

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Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

United Auto Workers members strike at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant on September 16, 2023 in Wayne, Michigan. This is the first time in history that the UAW is striking all three of the Big Three auto makers, Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, at the same time.

Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The man behind this strike is the president of the United Auto Workers union, Shawn Fain. He was elected this year on promises to end corruption and win back concessions given to automakers. And he joins me now. Good morning, Shawn.

SHAWN FAIN: Good morning.

FADEL: So you met with General Motor and Ford over the weekend. Are you any closer to a deal?

FAIN: We've put, you know, full offers to all three companies before the strike deadline. And, you know, we've really, you know, had minimal conversations over the weekend. So, you know, the ball's still in their court. So, you know, we're going to keep moving as we have and just see how things progress.

FADEL: Now, as we heard from our reporter, one of the major sticking points in the negotiations has been the demand for a wage increase, a demand of 40%. The three auto companies have come up to above 20%, the highest offer is. Is that enough?

FAIN: No, it's not enough. And, you know, people have to understand where we've been, you know, where our workers have been. You know, you go back to the economic recession, which, you know, happened due to, you know, banks, you know, abusing a system and creating the issue. And then, you know, a lot of the issues are happening in the auto industry were bad decisions on the part of the companies. And unfortunately, you know, as always, the working class and the workers always get blamed and feel the brunt of bad decisions.

And whether it was the banking industry and, you know, their manipulation of the housing market, and, you know, they get bailed out. They get trillions of dollars, and, you know, working-class people lose their homes. And it's the same in the auto industry. Companies made bad decisions. The workers get blamed for everything that's wrong with it. And since that - you know, we made a lot of sacrifices at that time. We lost - we sacrificed cost-of-living allowance. You know, we lost retirement security, you know, job security. And, you know, the whole fight in this that we're standing for now is we've went backwards roughly $10 an hour in wages over the last 16 years.

And the sad part of this is in the same time, in the last decade, these companies have made a quarter trillion dollars in profits. In the last six months alone, they made 21 billion in profits. In the last four years - I think this sets the real tone and the real picture of why we're in this fight right now - in the last four years for the big three, North American profits are up 65%. CEOs gave themselves 40% pay increases in the last four years. Stock buybacks are up 1,500% in the last four years. The average price of vehicles went up 34% in the last four years.

FADEL: So...

FAIN: Inflation went up 20%, and our wages went up 6%.

FADEL: Yeah.

FAIN: And so when people say that if workers, you know, get higher wages, it's going to drive up the price of cars, this has all happened with us going backwards in wages. Labor costs 4- to 5% of the cost to make a vehicle.

FADEL: There are three plants that are shut down right now. It's been four days. No deal so far. Are you planning to call for more walkouts, shut down more plants?

FAIN: That's up to the companies. You know, we were - you know, and that's the thing I want to make clear to people. You know, we were very upfront from day one over eight weeks ago when we began bargaining with the companies. You know, we stated then that we were not going to do - if they expected to wait till the last minute and start bargaining, you know, they were going to be disappointed because, you know, we expected to get down to our members' demands and take care of business early so we wouldn't be in this position. The companies chose not to. And so they waited till last week to actually start really talking. And so, you know, we have a long way to go. And if the company does not respect the demands of our workers, then we will escalate action.

FADEL: And very quickly, before we let you go, there have been temporary layoffs in connection to these strikes. What are - what does this mean for workers who need to survive during these negotiations?

FAIN: We're not going to leave our workers behind. Unfortunately, you know, that's the choice the companies made. The companies didn't have to lay these workers off. You know, it was a choice. They're trying to intimidate workers. But, you know, we'll take care of our workers no matter what we have to do.

FADEL: United Auto Workers union president Shawn Fain. Thank you so much.

FAIN: Thank you.

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