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United Auto Workers strike underway: What you need to know

What does the union want from Detroit's Big 3 and how did we get here?

TOLEDO, Ohio — The United Auto Workers began their strike the moment contracts with Detroit's Big 3 automakers expired at 11:59 p.m. Thursday.

As thousands of workers hit the picket lines, here's what you need to know about the labor issue:

How many workers are involved?

About 146,000 U.S. workers at the big three domestic automakers are represented by the United Autoworkers.

Locally, there are 8,000 affected UAW workers at five regional plants.

Which auto companies are involved?

 Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler), General Motors and Ford.

What does the union want?

 In the contract talks, the UAW is seeking restoration of pensions for new hires and elimination of wage tiers that pays some new workers less. The union also is seeking a 32-hour work week for which workers would be paid for 40 hours.

The union also sought 40% pay raises for workers -- because, labor leaders say, that's the size of raises the automakers' chief executive officers have received in the last four years.  In recent days UAW leaders have backed off the demand for 40% raises, asking instead for raises of about 36%.

What do the companies want?

Companies have offered pay raises in their contract proposals -- between 17.5 and 20 percent --  though that's lower than what the UAW is seeking. 

Automakers say they must be mindful not to put their companies at a disadvantage by approving a labor deal that forces them to raise car prices while international and non-union competitors can keep prices the same.

How does the shift to electric vehicles relate to this? 

The United Auto Workers also want to represent workers at the vehicle battery plants being built by car manufacturers as the industry shifts to electric models. They want assurances that those workers will be unionized and paid top union wages. 

The automakers also are concerned with how the shift to electric vehicles will affect their bottom line. The companies contend the evolution to electric models and battery production will be costly, meaning that they cannot afford lavish new contracts with workers.

How profitable are these car companies?

Though the domestic automakers faced crisis following the 2008 economic collapse -- and got concessions from union workers in contracts negotiated in the wake of the collapse -- the companies have recovered in recent years.

The companies collectively posted net income of $164 billion over the past decade, $20 billion of it this year.

When was the last time the companies and the union negotiated new contracts?

The UAW made their last deals with the three big domestic automakers in 2019. The deal between the UAW and General Motors came after a 40-day strike.

Have the workers already voted to strike?

In late August, UAW members voted overwhelmingly (97%) for a strike authorization. This vote does not mean the workers WILL strike, but it gives union leadership authority to call a strike if a deal can't be reached. 

How could this affect the economy? 

Because the auto industry has such a large impact on the American economy -- it accounts for about 3 percent of U.S. gross domestic product --  analysts are concerned that even a short strike could have far-reaching consequences. 

Industry analysts at the Anderson Economic Group estimate that a 10-day strike could cost the automakers nearly $1 billion. 

The strike also will affect workers, who can expect strike pay of just $500 a week.

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