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Union says UAW and automakers' talks are 'slow' as Biden aides prepare to visit

United Auto Workers members strike at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Wayne, Mich.
Bill Pugliano
Getty Images
United Auto Workers members strike at the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant on Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, in Wayne, Mich.

Updated September 17, 2023 at 2:42 PM ET

The United Auto Workers and automakers returned to the bargaining table this weekend but aren't making much progress, according to the union.

"Progress is slow and I don't really want to say we're closer," UAW President Shawn Fain told MSNBCon Sunday morning.

Talks resumed on Saturday following the launch of an unprecedented strike against the Big Three automakers — Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, the parent company of Chrysler, Jeep and Ram. Fain said they plan to continue negotiations on Sunday and Monday.

On Friday, about 13,000 workers at three Midwest plants walked off the job after the auto companies failed to reach a deal with the union on pay, pensions and other benefits. The 3 plants on strike assemble some of the automakers' most popular vehicles including Ford Broncos and Rangers, Jeep Wranglers and Gladiators, and Chevrolet's Colorado and the GMC Canyon.

"It's a shame that the companies didn't take our advice and get down to business," Fain said on Sunday. "They did what they always do, they delayed until the very end, to the last week, and then they want to get serious about this."

This week, Julie Su, the acting labor secretary, and Gene Sperling, a White House senior adviser, are expected to arrive in Detroit to help with negotiations.

The strike currently involves less than 9% of UAW membership at the three companies. But more workers could go on strike at a moment's notice, depending on how negotiations go.

Ford and GM announce hundreds of temporary layoffs

About 600 workers at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant's body construction department and south sub-assembly area of integrated stamping were told not to report to work on Friday because the components they produce require e-coating. According to Ford, e-coating is a protection measure completed by the facility's paint department, which went on strike.

"Our production system is highly interconnected, which means the UAW's targeted strike strategy will have knock-on effects for facilities that are not directly targeted for a work stoppage," Ford said in a statement.

General Motors similarly said the strike at Wentzville Assembly in Missouri was already having "a negative ripple effect" at the rest of its Fairfax assembly plant in Kansas. The company warned that 2,000 Fairfax workers are expected to be out of work by early next week.

"This is due to a shortage of critical stampings supplied by Wentzville's stamping operations to Fairfax," General Motors said in a statement. "We are working under an expired agreement at Fairfax. Unfortunately, there are no provisions that allow for company-provided SUB-pay in this circumstance."

Ford and General Motors will not offer compensation for laid-off workers, UAW calls its a strategic attack

When a factory is idled because of supply chain issues, companies typically give partial pay to its non-striking workers. But in this case, Ford and General Motors said there will be no such compensation.

The UAW President Shawn Fain said the union will make sure that affected workers continue to have an income and called the temporary layoffs as a strategic attack to hasten negotiations.

"Let's be clear: if the Big Three decide to lay people off who aren't on strike, that's them trying to put the squeeze on our members to settle for less," Fain said Saturday in a statement.

He also argued that the auto companies can afford to avoid such temporary layoffs.

"With their record profits, they don't have to lay off a single employee. In fact, they could double every autoworker's pay, not raise car prices, and still rake in billions of dollars," he said in a statement on Saturday.

NPR's Andrea Hsu and Camila Domonoske contributed reporting.

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Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.