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The threatened strike by United Auto Workers nears deadline

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK, here we are. It's Thursday, and automakers, along with the United Auto Workers, have until 11:59 tonight to settle on a new contract or autoworkers say they will strike. Here's NPR's Andrea Hsu.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: First of all, not all 150,000 autoworkers would go on strike at once. Instead, at 10 p.m. tonight, if there's no deal, UAW President Shawn Fain says he'll announce which plants will strike first. Then in coming days, depending on how talks are going, the union may call on more to join.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHAWN FAIN: This is going to create confusion for the companies. It's going to keep them guessing on what might happen next. And it's going to turbocharge the power of our negotiators.

HSU: Four years ago, autoworkers walked out at GM. But this time, Fain says, they're doing something different.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FAIN: For the first time in our history, we may strike all three of the Big Three at once.

HSU: Now, there's still time to come to a deal. But as of last night, the two sides were still very far apart. Take wages - the UAW has called for wage increases of 40% over four years. The Big Three are nowhere close to that. Ford's latest proposal is a 20% increase over 4 1/2 years. GM and Stellantis have offered a little less than that. Fain told workers, we are seeing movement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FAIN: But they're still not willing to agree on the kinds of raise that will make up for inflation on top of decades of falling wages.

HSU: And when it comes to the UAW's other demands, including the return of pensions and retiree health care, Fain says the companies have not budged. Now, the automakers point out the raises they've offered are the largest by far in decades. In fact, Ford CEO Jim Farley told reporters at the Detroit Auto Show, together, it's the most generous offer in 80 years.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM FARLEY: Pay increases. Elimination of tiers. Inflation protection. Five weeks of vacation. Seventeen paid holidays.

HSU: And in a statement last night, Ford said it was putting 100% of its energy into reaching an agreement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FARLEY: But there is a limit because we have to protect for the future investments. And the profitability of the company funds those.

HSU: As for how long a strike might last, that's anyone's guess, but it'll go on for at least a day. Fain said if no deal is reached by tonight, there will be no bargaining tomorrow. Instead, he'll be at a mass rally with Senator Bernie Sanders in downtown Detroit.

Andrea Hsu, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) 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.

Andrea Hsu is NPR's labor and workplace correspondent.

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