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Autoworkers are set to strike if their contract demands aren't met by midnight

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Automakers and the Auto Workers Union have just hours left to reach a deal before the union plans to begin targeted strikes. We do know autoworkers are getting sizable raises. We still don't know how much. And the fate of some of the other union demands is still up in the air. NPR's Camila Domonoske is in Detroit. She joins us now from there. Hey there, Camila.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: Hey. First off, tell me exactly where you are in Detroit.

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. I'm at the Detroit Auto Show right now. You might be able to hear some electric vehicles whipping around on an indoor track in here.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIRES SCREECHING)

KELLY: OK.

DOMONOSKE: This show this year has been completely overshadowed by these talks that are happening. You know, you have executives who've been trying to talk about these new vehicles coming out, and all the reporters here just keep asking them about these union talks.

KELLY: Yeah, OK. And so where do the union talks stand with the clocks ticking away?

DOMONOSKE: Tick-tock, tick-tock. So midnight is the deadline. GM and Ford say that they have put offers on the table on pay and benefits that the companies called historic. I'm waiting to hear back from Stellantis. The union says that these offers are simply not good enough given the huge profits that companies have been making lately and the big pay hikes that they gave their CEOs. On the company side, last night here at the show, Jim Farley - he's the CEO of Ford. And he expressed frustration with what he saw as the union not responding to the company's offers. Here's what he said.

JIM FARLEY: We still have time left. We have time left. But it's hard to negotiate when you don't get any feedback back.

DOMONOSKE: And, you know, there's not much time left, right? Ford sources today said they were expecting talks to be sort of fast and furious, if you'll forgive a car pun, flying back and forth offers today. But they just haven't been that busy. I should note the union previously accused the companies of stalling for weeks on sort of getting to the nitty-gritty. So there's frustration on both sides.

KELLY: OK, frustration on both sides. But on the substance, do we know how far apart they remain?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. Automakers have moved on wages. They're now offering 20% increases we saw from GM and Ford. And the companies have put cost-of-living protections that are tied to inflation on the table. That's really a big win for the union. Lots of people thought they weren't going to be able to get that. Newer hires will also be able to get maximum pay a lot faster under the company proposals at this point. But, Mary Louise, there are some things that the union used to have, things the union would really like to get back, things like pensions instead of 401(k)s and pay for workers even if their plant is shut down. And on those things, the automakers are not budging at all. They say they're simply too expensive, and they couldn't compete. And the union, meanwhile, says they're really important.

KELLY: OK, so sounds like we may well be looking at a strike. What do we know about what form that might take? What'll it look like?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. UAW president Shawn Fain says they could strike all three companies at once, like he said all along. That would be really unusual. At the same time, this is not going to be the mega-strike that many people had sort of been bracing for. We're not going to see 150,000-ish members all walkout on Friday. The union is instead going to start with a few plants and then grow from there. That is odd. That's not how most strikes happen today. But historian Ileen DeVault says it's actually a throwback to the '30s.

ILEEN DEVAULT: It's sort of a variation on how they ran their first really huge strike against General Motors in 1937, when they started in one plant. And then another plant would join, and then another plant would join.

DOMONOSKE: And then another plant and then another plant. You know, companies also have strike plans. Ford has opened a line of credit. They've trained salaried workers to take shifts in plants that send out parts. They are bracing.

KELLY: All right. And it sounds like, just like those electric cars behind you, we're racing up against this deadline hours away.

DOMONOSKE: That's right. Ten o'clock, shortly before the deadline, they're going to announce where the strikes will happen. But at midnight, strikes will kick off.

KELLY: NPR's Camila Domonoske at the Detroit Auto Show. Thanks, Camila.

DOMONOSKE: Thanks, Mary Louise.

(SOUNDBITE OF 100 GECS SONG, "RINGTONE") 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.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.
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