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UAW president calls tentative deals with Ford and Stellantis big wins

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Six weeks into a strike against the big three U.S. automakers, the United Auto Workers union has clinched deals with two of them - Ford and Stellantis, the parent company of Chrysler. UAW president Shawn Fain calls them big wins.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHAWN FAIN: This contract is about more than just economic gains for autoworkers. It's a turning point in the class war that's been raging in this country for the past 40 years.

FADEL: Over the weekend, the strike against General Motors expanded to a huge engine plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. NPR's Camila Domonoske joins us now to discuss all this. Hi, Camila.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So, two tentative deals. What does this mean for the strike?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. Ford and Stellantis workers are going back to production lines. For some Ford workers, today is actually their first day back. But it's important to note these are not done deals until the membership votes on them.

FADEL: OK.

DOMONOSKE: Meanwhile, at General Motors, no deal yet. So the strike continues. In fact, it expands.

FADEL: So how good, in the view of workers, are these two tentative deals? Did the strike pay off?

DOMONOSKE: Well, these are the best contract gains the union has seen in decades. It's really no contest. There's a big pay increase, 25% over 4 1/2 years - bigger than that for temps and newer hires. There's cost-of-living increases on top of that, bumps in 401(k) contributions, other things. You know, I spoke with Kyle Bendert last night. He works at the engine line in Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant, and he's still reading in on all the details of the Ford contract.

KYLE BENDERT: But the wage increase, I love. My whole hope since the beginning of it was to get to $40 an hour, which by the end of this contract we will be at.

DOMONOSKE: Now, he does wish there were more gains about vacation time. The union really didn't seem to get much traction on work-life balance issues this round. But overall, he's leaning toward voting yes. In the UAW Facebook groups he's on with other workers, he's getting a different vibe.

BENDERT: I will say that a lot of people seem unimpressed and willing to go back to the picket line.

DOMONOSKE: That is, maybe willing to reject this deal.

FADEL: Wait. But you just described how good it is in comparison. Why?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. Well, you know, some people have specific concerns. Maybe they think the pay raises take too long to kick in or other things. More broadly, it's just a sense that the union could get more. Although union leadership does say they really squeezed out every penny they could.

FADEL: And meanwhile, what's happening with GM?

DOMONOSKE: They're trying to get to an agreement "as quickly as possible." That's a quote from GM there. This strike has already cost the company more than $800 million.

FADEL: Wow.

DOMONOSKE: And the new strike expansion is big. It's a big plant. It makes engines for other plants, so big ripple effects. You know, usually, these three companies have very similar contracts. And I will note the Stellantis deal followed just a few days after that Ford tentative deal.

FADEL: So are we close to the end here then?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. We are potentially nearing the end of this - so far - six-week strike - depends on GM and on how members vote here. But the end of the strike is also in some ways just the beginning of the story, right? We're talking about a huge shift in the relationship between this historic union and this powerful and economically important industry. It's gotten much more antagonistic. It's going to be interesting to see how that plays out. You know, the balance in power between workers and employers around the country has been shifting. And for the UAW, there's a huge question about whether they'll be able to use whatever deals they secure here to finally organize nonunion plants like Tesla, foreign automakers like Honda and Toyota.

FADEL: Yeah. NPR's Camila Domonoske. Thanks so much.

DOMONOSKE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF LITTLE PEOPLE'S "MOON") 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.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.