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UAW strike ramps up as Kentucky facility walks off job

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The United Auto Workers strike is in its fifth week, and no end is in sight. In fact, it has been expanding. Last week saw 8,700 workers walk out of a Ford plant in Kentucky. With me now is Jacob Munoz with Louisville Public Media, who has been at that picket line. Hey, Jacob.

JACOB MUNOZ, BYLINE: Hey. How are you?

KELLY: I'm all right. So - OK, so the strike's expanding. Just speak to - what is the significance of this Ford plant in Kentucky?

MUNOZ: Right. Well, it's called the Kentucky Truck Plant, and last week's walk-off was a major surprise. That's because this facility is crucial for Ford. It's the company's largest truck and SUV plant, makes many of the popular Ford Super Duty trucks, and it's responsible for 16% of the company's global revenue. But it's also a major Louisville employer, so the sudden walk-off was a real shock to the system. And it was something that Bill Ford himself criticized. He's the company's executive chair, and, on Monday, he spoke publicly about the contract negotiations. He really wants an agreement.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BILL FORD: Toyota, Honda, Tesla and the others are loving this strike because they know the longer it goes on, the better it is for them. They will win, and all of us will lose.

MUNOZ: He also talked about Ford's need to invest in the future, which company leaders have cited as why they don't want to make all of the concessions that the UAW wants.

KELLY: Yeah. Well, paint me a picture 'cause I know you were out at the picket lines. What did you see? What did you hear?

MUNOZ: Yeah. Well, while I've been out there, you know, you can see Ford workers have makeshift bonfires to warm them up in the weather. They're waving signs at cars, and plenty of drivers have been honking in support of their cause. Now, of course, the employees I've talked to would rather be working, but they feel more is needed from Ford. Todd Dunn is the head of the local UAW chapter here in Louisville. He says the union wants to make sure jobs aren't lost as automakers like Ford begin to transition to electric vehicles.

TODD DUNN: It's about protection, and it's about our future that we're leaving. We've got to leave it better than we found it.

MUNOZ: And the union is also holding out for more immediate changes, like better pay and better retirement benefits for workers.

KELLY: And what's the update on how long they might hold out? What is the status of these - of the talks?

MUNOZ: Yeah, it's a bit murky right now. The strike, of course, isn't against just Ford. It's also affecting General Motors and Stellantis, which owns Chrysler. These strikes started about a month ago with only a few plants. And now that the big Kentucky Truck Plant is on strike, there are more than 33,000 people all walking the picket lines. But that number is still only a quarter of all UAW autoworkers, and there are about 146,000 of them.

Details of these negotiations have been limited between both the companies and the union. Ford has shared that the UAW has agreed to some changes with them. Both sides have agreed to restoring cost-of-living adjustments, but there's - appear to be some big disagreements that have not been settled yet.

KELLY: Just briefly, I want to ask about one key priority of the strikes, which is unionizing workers in battery plants for electric vehicles. Where does that stand?

MUNOZ: Right. So EV batteries are a big deal, especially here in Kentucky. Ford is involved in building two battery plants that are expected to start production in 2025. Now, the union says that General Motors has agreed to include EV battery production in the union contract, but Ford as a company there is not there yet. It still says it's open to a solution for the battery plants, but what that might look like between the company and the UAW is very unclear.

KELLY: All righty (ph). Thanks for your reporting.

MUNOZ: Thank you.

KELLY: That is Jacob Munoz with Louisville Public Media. 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.

Jacob Munoz