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Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren joined the General Motors strike in Detroit on Sunday, calling for GM to be held “accountable.” For the last seven days, nearly 50,000 members of the United Automobile Workers Union have gathered at picket lines across the country, in the largest strike in the U.S. in over a decade. Phoebe Wall Howard of the Detroit Free Press joins Megan Thompson for more.
Talks continue today in Detroit, Michigan between the United Auto Workers and General Motors. On day seven of a national strike against the automaker, an estimated 46,000 workers walked out last week after GM and union officials failed to come to an agreement on a four year contract on issues including wages, health care and job security. The strike impacts more than 50 General Motors plants nationwide and the company stands to lose hundreds of millions of dollars as it continues while negotiations continue. T
he UAW is calling today "Solidarity Sunday" and is asking the public to join the picket lines to show support for the striking workers.
Phoebe Wall Howard covers the auto industry and labor for the Detroit Free Press and she joins me now for the latest on the strike.
So I understand that Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren joined the picket line today. How did her visit go?
Phoebe Wall Howard:
Well, from what we understand she actually met with labor leaders prior to meeting with members and when she arrived at the plant in Detroit she met primarily with members. It wasn't about giving a speech, she made slight remarks perhaps not even 10 minutes but hundreds of people hundreds came to this location and her remarks focused on what she said holding General Motors accountable.
And by that members say this is a company that received a bailout during the economic downturn from taxpayers. And today is seeing record profits as executive wages continue to grow. The workers say you know it might be time to revisit their benefits and their pay as well.
How are they doing? How's morale?
What's interesting is workers say they're not angry. They're sad. They're very serious about holding out in negotiations. But this is a group of people approximately 46,000 very very loyal to this company.
What are the major sticking points that need to be resolved?
Salary of course and benefits. Health care is perhaps the biggest issue for UAW members in that they will say they're in a factory environment, they have injured knees, injured arms, injured necks, injured hips and they use health care benefits unlike many many others.
In addition, they do not want to pay a bigger copay as many Americans do today. Primarily, another sticking point would be temporary workers. The Detroit Three depend quite a lot on temporary workers. They do not qualify for the benefits, the vacation, retirement so you may have two workers side by side earning very very different wages.
So the companies say these workers are essential for holding costs down and being competitive with the non Detroit Three.
And I mean in a way this breakdown in talks it's not over new issues. I mean it's been really years in the making, right?
Members say that they've waited more than a decade for this conversation. That during the downturn they reduced benefits and they made dramatic changes as a union to assist General Motors. They point to Ford Motor Company and say that Ford did not go bankrupt and in fact had more hourly workers on the payroll. So the GM employees will say, wait a minute, you know we've taken some big hits here and it is time to circle back and revisit benefits and pay.
Meanwhile there's this federal corruption probe of the Union that's going on. How is that playing into all of this?
The federal probe corruption indictments convictions has been devastating for members and heartbreaking frankly. So you have people who have gone to prison. We're approaching nearly a dozen under the microscope and convicted and pleaded.
However, what the members will say is that they count on their local leadership and that's what gives them confidence that local leaders will be in charge of ratifying this contract. So any questions raised by the international are then addressed by the local leadership. But the investigation is real.
The impact is serious and the members say they really do feel betrayed. However they don't see an answer they feel organizing is essential for fair and equitable treatment long term.
All right Phoebe Wall Howard of the Detroit Free Press thank you very much for being here.
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