GM Workers Face Lean Times on the Picket Line The 73,000 auto workers now on strike at General Motors now face the prospect of getting by on only $200 a week.
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GM Workers Face Lean Times on the Picket Line

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GM Workers Face Lean Times on the Picket Line

GM Workers Face Lean Times on the Picket Line

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This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


And I'm Alex Cohen.

It's only been a day since GM workers across the U.S. walked off their jobs, but already, they're beginning to face the realities of the strike. They'll have to get by on a greatly reduced income and they'll lose their health coverage on October 1st - that's this coming Monday.

NPR's Celeste Headlee spoke with GM employees on the picket line in Detroit.

CELESTE HEADLEE: As of 11 a.m. yesterday morning, UAW workers at General Motors stopped earning a living. While they're on strike, they'll get a check from the union for $200 a week and if the strike last beyond this week, they'll lose their medical insurance as well.

Charles Bologna(ph) is one of dozens walking the picket line in front of GM's Detroit Hamtramck Assembly Plant. He says if the strike is still going on next Monday, he'll find another way to get health care coverage.

Mr. CHARLES BOLOGNA (UAW Activist): I have to get another job. I can get a job as a security job or something like that. I can do it.

HEADLEE: Dan McForrest(ph) is walking behind him holding a green and white sign that says UAW on strike. He says he can't afford to worry about his health care.

Mr. DAN McFORREST (UAW Activist): Hope I don't get sick.

HEADLEE: What about your family? Are they worried?

Mr. McFORREST: Yeah, everybody is worried. Everybody is worried, but you got to do what you're going to do.

HEADLEE: And that seems to be the prevailing opinion on the picket line. The workers are disappointed that they had to walk away from their jobs, but they're prepared to pinch pennies for as long as it takes until they have a new contract. UAW plant chairman Frank Moultrie says it's too early to be feeling the pain of that $200 check.

Mr. FRANK MOULTRIE (Chairman, UAW Local 22 Plant): You're always a bit, you know, apprehensive when you have a strike because you don't know what it's going to turn out to be. So you take that in consideration, but I don't think people are jittery yet.

HEADLEE: And Bob Weiner(ph) says there's still hope that GM will reach an agreement with the union this week.

Mr. BOB WEINER (UAW Activist): I hope it's a 20-minute strike. I hope tomorrow they're going to give me a call and say, probably, we'll come back to work. We're all here to make a living, right? Strike pay doesn't pay the bills.

HEADLEE: Weiner says he's determine to weather the storm because the issues at stake are too important to concede. He says he's grateful the union is willing to stand firm on things like health care and wage equity, and he'll support the UAW even if the strike lasts for months.

Mr. WEINER: I would have nothing without the UAW. I have a special need daughter that I wouldn't had the health care that I wouldn't had if it wasn't for the UAW negotiating my benefits and my wages. So that's what it comes down to. I owe the UAW everything.

HEADLEE: But Mark Berry(ph) says it's more than loyalty to the union that keeps him from feeling anxious. He says the reality is the UAW contract of GM has to be renegotiated every four years. And there's a possibility of a strike every time, Berry says, and you have to prepare for it.

Mr. MARK BERRY (UAW Activist): It's not about the $200 everybody is asking about. It got nothing to do with it. It's got to do with what's going on in the future, what's going to go on down the road for the UAW, for the retirees, for ourselves. We have sacrificed something that we can't sacrifice it. We can't afford to live off whatever change we get a month. We're really in the wrong jobs then.

HEADLEE: The strike has idled more than 80 GM facilities around the country and could force plants in Canada and Mexico to shut down as well. But analysts say the chances are good this will be a short strike. Negotiators returned to the bargaining table just hours after the strike began and talks continue today.

Celeste Headlee, NPR News, Detroit.

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