RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:
We take a closer look, now, at one GM factory - the Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas City, Kansas. It makes the Chevy Malibu and the Saturn Aura. Two thousand UAW members walked off the job there yesterday.
NPR's Jason Beaubien met some of them on the picket lines outside the plant.
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JASON BEAUBIEN: GM's Fairfax Assembly plant is in an industrial section on the north side of Kansas City, Kansas. Soon after the strike deadline, workers lined the road in front of the factory holding green and white signs declaring, UAW on Strike. Passing trucks blew their horns in solidarity.
Mike Johnston(ph), who's worked at Fairfax for 22 years, says GM isn't taking the workers seriously.
MIKE JOHNSTON: GM does not wanting to work with us. They think we're a bunch of patsies. They would - didn't think we would do this. So we got something to prove now.
BEAUBIEN: Prove that organized labor still is a force to be reckoned with in the auto industry, he says. Johnston says that if left unchecked, GM will slash wages, reduce benefits, and ship good paying jobs out of the U.S. But Johnston says he's not worried that this could be the start of a disastrous strike for both GM and the UAW. He has faith that the union leaders will do what's best for their members.
JOHNSTON: The company's not wanting to do what's best for us. All the blood, sweat and tears we've given General Motors - they don't appreciate it. Their operational line or taking million-dollar bonuses when they want to tell us they want to cut our wages, or benefits. Here's where we got to be. There's been a lot of people, through the years, have fought. They've gone on strike. You know, we got a proud history. And we got to stay with it.
BEAUBIEN: While GM's chief executive Rick Wagoner didn't receive a cash bonus this year, he was granted stock awards worth nearly $3 million. That occurred just after the company announced the $2 billion loss for 2006, and Toyota surpassed GM for the first time in global sales.
On the picket lines in Kansas City, UAW officials say this strike is about saving jobs and health care benefits. And at least on day one of the strike, the union seemed to be fielding enthusiastic and loyal troops.
Sharon Duncan(ph) is sitting with two of her colleagues on folding chairs outside the plant's main gate. Duncan has worked on the Fairfax Assembly line for 10 years.
SHARON DUNCAN: I put the first part on the car, the sidelight and then gas line.
BEAUBIEN: And she says her future now is in the hands of the union leaders.
DUNCAN: I mean, hey, they go out, we go out, you know? And that's the name of the game. They say stay in, we stay in. They say walk out, we walk out.
BEAUBIEN: Charlotte Dickie(ph), sitting beside Duncan, works as an inspector on the assembly line. She says the idea of having no paycheck for a while is a bit scary, but she sees a bigger picture.
CHARLOTTE DICKIE: Yeah, we feel nervous but it's just something that we have to do - for job security. You know we want to make sure we have jobs. They're sending jobs overseas. So we want to make sure we have jobs here for our kids, grandkids, whoever.
BEAUBIEN: Dickie and others here say that in order to save jobs, they need to listen to the union leaders right now and walk off theirs.
Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Kansas City.
MONTAGNE: You can read about what's at stake in the negotiations for Auto Workers, those who've retired, and the Big Three at npr.org.
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