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UAW strike latest: Biden to visit picket lines, the union's new strategy

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

It's the ninth day of the United Auto Workers strike against GM, Ford and Stellantis, Chrysler's parent company. It's the first time the union has ever struck all Detroit three automakers simultaneously. The union also has a president directly elected by members for the first time in its history and a brand-new strike strategy.

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton is with us today from Ann Arbor, Mich., to catch us up on the latest. Hey, Tracy.

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

DETROW: Any new progress on talks?

SAMILTON: I have not seen anything. It is the weekend. We tend to get a little less information. But we do know the union has said that it has made more progress with Ford Motor Company than the other two. And we know the negotiations have not stalled.

DETROW: Let's - this new union president, Shawn Fain, has gotten a lot of attention. How has he handled this past week?

SAMILTON: You know, Mr. Fain has shown himself to be a really effective and disciplined communicator. He's been holding regular Facebook Live updates, talking directly to the members about how the negotiations are going. The union's use and his use of social media has been really, really disciplined and out there...

DETROW: Yeah.

SAMILTON: ...All - everywhere. So we're hearing a lot from him, but his members are primarily hearing from him.

DETROW: What are GM, Stellantis and Ford saying right now?

SAMILTON: Well, Ford, as you can imagine, because they've made more progress, has pulled back from criticizing the union. The General Motors and Stellantis are obviously unhappy that the strike has escalated against them, and they're saying it was unnecessary, the union is not negotiating in good faith and their latest counteroffers have been very generous.

DETROW: One big development is that President Biden has announced that he is going to join the strikers on the picket lines Tuesday. How is that announcement playing?

SAMILTON: Well, you can imagine there are some conservative and middle-of-the-road pundits who say this is not OK, right? This is a mistake for the president to essentially choose sides.

DETROW: Yeah.

SAMILTON: The union, of course, is happy about it. You know, Mr. Trump is coming to Michigan next week, and he is making a play for union members himself, saying, electrification of the vehicle is going to kill your jobs. And so if I'm elected, I'm going to stop that in its tracks.

DETROW: How is - how much are strikers and union members talking about the electric car issue? Because that is part of the dynamics. And on one hand, President Biden is a pretty strong supporter of unions, to the point of walking this picket line.

SAMILTON: Right.

DETROW: But on the other hand, he's the one pushing to totally overhaul the auto industry and make all cars electric.

SAMILTON: Yeah. He is threading a needle there. And the members, I think, are - you know, they're very, very focused on the bread-and-butter issues. You know, we've - haven't had a raise in a long time. We gave up cost of living. You know, we gave up a whole lot during the Great Recession, and we want that stuff back. So that's primarily what I'm hearing.

DETROW: And, Tracy, what are you looking for over the next week or so? Obviously, the president is coming, and that's going to be a big thing. But what are the other key things that could lead to some movement or lead to another week of the same?

SAMILTON: It's possible that the union may actually make enough progress with Ford Motor Company to say we have a tentative agreement. And if that happens, that puts a lot more pressure on General Motors and Stellantis to move when they come to the table.

DETROW: That is Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton in Ann Arbor, Mich. Thanks so much for joining us.

SAMILTON: Thanks for having me on the show. 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.

Tracy Samilton covers the auto beat for Michigan Radio. She has worked for the station for 12 years, and started out as an intern before becoming a part-time and, later, a full-time reporter. Tracy's reports on the auto industry can frequently be heard on Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as on Michigan Radio. She considers her coverage of the landmark lawsuit against the University of Michigan for its use of affirmative action a highlight of her reporting career.