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Chrysler Workers Walk Out as Deadline Looms


Okay, here's the latest we know about Chrysler. Workers are walking off the job at Chrysler plants today. A strike deadline passed in the last 20 minutes or so with no word of an agreement between Chrysler and the United Auto Workers. So we've put in a call to Dustin Dwyer. He's with Michigan Radio, and he's at the United Auto Workers Hall in Sterling Heights, Michigan.

Dustin, welcome to the program.

DUSTIN DWYER: Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: What do you see where you are?

DWYER: Well, where I am, workers here are getting their strike assignment. They started walking in right around 11:00 o'clock. They started pouring in from the plant. There's a little - a long table of picket signs, and they're picking up their signs. They're signing up for their shifts, and they're walking out on the line here.

INSKEEP: Now, you mentioned 11:00 o'clock. We should say, of course, that's Eastern Time, and that in fact was the strike deadline. Is there official word that's been passed down of a strike as you and I speak here?

DWYER: No, that I can't say for sure. I would just handed a piece of paper by one of the officials here at the UAW Local 1264. That's an order. It says that all Chrysler plants will be on strike with the exception of five plants, and these are plants - it looks like the majority of them were already closed down anyway.

Chrysler has had some plants shut down this week because it had excess inventory. Sales were down. So it had already had plants that were idle, and it looks like, based on this piece of paper that I'm holding, which again has not be confirmed by the UAW International Leadership, that this piece of paper says that all these plants are on strike with the exception of five plants in the country.

INSKEEP: So what we know at this early moment is that a lot of Chrysler workers certainly think they're on strike or acting like they're on strike, not just at your Union Hall, but according to the Associated Press, at other locations at Chrysler plants around.

Now, I have to ask if the union is prepared for a long strike.

DWYER: Well, that's a good question. I think the union, technically they have plenty of money and their strike fund. I've heard at 800 to $900 million. They could last several weeks on that. Workers who are on strike will get paid $200 a week. So it's certainly possible. Now, I think people here don't want it to be a long strike. From the workers' perspective, living off of $200 a week is not easy. So while a long strike is possible, most people are hoping that it will be a short strike.

INSKEEP: Do workers as well as the company see this is a moment that could determine their future?

DWYER: Absolutely. I mean, we heard talks - heading into these negotiations this year - and all three Detroit automakers are negotiating contracts - but many people said this could be the most important contract ever negotiated for Detroit companies.

So everyone knows the stakes here, and these workers are certainly, you know, the ones who are going out on strike, they know the stakes.

INSKEEP: Everything worked out in the end, when General Motors very briefly went on strike not very long ago. The union and the GM reached an agreement that involved changing the way the health plan is paid for and other issues as well that seemed to satisfy both sides. Are matters that simple when it comes to Chrysler?

DWYER: Well, that's a good question. And you know, I should say we don't know exactly what's going on in the bargaining room, but reports suggest that they could be a little more - could be a little more complicated. Chrysler has slightly different problems. The UAW would want to have gotten the same agreement with Chrysler that it got with GM.

The fact that we have a strike right now shows that Chrysler is not willing to sign on to that same agreement. They could have some other concerns. Chrysler now, of course, is a private company. It was bought by Cerberus Capital Management. Those private owners could have different concerns. They could want to change how things that have operated here.

INSKEEP: Is there a sense that the private firms, which tend to be - try to be turnaround artists - they want to turn around the company quickly - that they may look at the long-term in a different way than GM management might?

DWYER: Right. There's some suggestions, you know, there's some reports that that could have been one of the hang-ups in the GM contract. Of course, GM agreed to guarantee on future products investment plants well into the future. Chrysler, being, you know, being a private company, may not want those guarantees.

INSKEEP: Can I just ask about the mood where you are? Are people excited, resigned, disappointed?

DWYER: You know, it's a good question. The people are sort of coming in - it's a little bit of both. I haven't seen too many long faces, but people are just sort of picking up their signs, and they're heading out the door, you know? There's a lot of people here. It's tough to say at this point, you know, what the mood is.

INSKEEP: Well, Dustin, check back in with us if you learn more.

DWYER: Absolutely.

INSKEEP: Dustin Dwyer of Michigan Radio is at the United Auto Workers hall in Sterling Heights, Michigan. And that's one of the places around the country where there is every sign of a strike by Chrysler workers, although we have no official announcement yet. And we'll bring you more as we learn more. 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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Dustin Dwyer is a reporter for a new project at Michigan Radio that will look at improving economic opportunities for low-income children. Previously, he worked as an online journalist for Changing Gears, as a freelance reporter and as Michigan Radio's West Michigan Reporter. Before he joined Michigan Radio, Dustin interned at NPR's Talk of the Nation, wrote freelance stories for The Jackson Citizen-Patriot and completed a Reporting & Writing Fellowship at the Poynter Institute.