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The strike against automakers by members of the UAW hits the 2 week mark

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

This might sound like a traffic jam.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAR HORN HONKING)

MARTÍNEZ: For United Auto Workers on the picket line, that is the sound of support.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Thank you. Thank you.

MARTÍNEZ: The union's historic strike has hit the two-week mark. And later this morning, the union could announce new strike locations. We've talked a lot about the things the union is asking for. Today, NPR's Camila Domonoske brings us a story of a third-generation UAW worker for whom those demands feel personal.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant stretches along this busy road for more than a mile - a noisy mile - gate after gate, entrance after entrance, each with a cluster of picketers.

ERIC MULLINS: Here, I don't know if you've noticed, but if 10 cars go by, eight of them are blowing their horn or waving, you know? We've had a few people who are pretty negative about it, but, I mean, they just don't understand. They've never worked what like we've worked.

DOMONOSKE: Eric Mullins has been at Ford for 3 1/2 years. His very first day, he was on the line installing tires.

MULLINS: The cars would come down the line, and I'd have to get the wheels out, wheel and tire, put it on the car while it's still moving, start all six lug nuts by hand, shoot them with a little drill and then be done in time to give it to the next guy - one car a minute.

DOMONOSKE: That's what he's thinking about when hecklers drive by.

MULLINS: But we don't - you know, we're lazy, and we don't work hard.

DOMONOSKE: Today, Mullins drives a hi-lo - a forklift. And to explain why the union's on strike, he nods to some coworkers beside him on the picket line.

MULLINS: Rob has been here since '88, and, you know, Sofus has been here just as long. You know, they make double what I do - double and I do the same job. I work with Rob all the time - same job, same skill set.

DOMONOSKE: Pushing for the same pay for everyone is one of the union's big demands. It's something the UAW had and gave up around the financial crisis to help companies. Now the union wants it back - Same thing with retirement. Mullins has a 401(k) but no guaranteed pension or retiree health care. Lots of workers don't get those these days, but autoworkers used to, like Mullins' dad. When he retires...

MULLINS: Oh, he'll still have insurance. Absolutely. He'll still get everything. He'll get a pension, all his benefits. We get nothing. So that's the kind of stuff that's got to end.

DOMONOSKE: What Mullins wants is the kind of pay his coworker Rob has, the kind of retirement his dad will have, his grandfather had. Ford has offered things like big raises and cost-of-living guarantees, but automakers say they simply can't afford to give back everything, not while investing in EVs and competing with nonunion companies. That's why a deal has been hard to reach.

MULLINS: It's not striking because we want to strike. I mean, we want to go to work. I want to go to work.

DOMONOSKE: Mullins says he thinks the companies can afford more than they've offered. He mentions Ford CEO Jim Farley's pay.

MULLINS: Well, Jim Farley made 25 million this year.

DOMONOSKE: Farley made 21 mil last year. But the big three CEOs on average? Mullins had it on the dot. Ford, GM and Stellantis have also been making billions in profits.

MULLINS: There's money there, you know? And I get that we can't have everything we asked for because, let's face it, some things are, you know - this, oh, we'll-throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks kind of stuff. But...

DOMONOSKE: But he thinks they could get more than they've gotten. And like many workers on this line, he sees this strike as part of a bigger struggle.

MULLINS: Problem is the rich want to get richer, and they want to keep the poor poor, and they want to wipe out the working class.

DOMONOSKE: He hopes the strike is successful. And...

MULLINS: I hope we're not out here too long. But...

DOMONOSKE: The union reported some progress in talks with Ford last week, but no word of a breakthrough since. For now, these workers remain on strike - some excited, some more resigned, but all of them determined.

MULLINS: What are we going to do, I guess? We got to take a stand for something.

DOMONOSKE: With a soundtrack of honks to let them know they're not standing alone.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRUCK HORN HONKING)

DOMONOSKE: Camila Domonoske, NPR News, Wayne, Mich.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLOODMASTA CUT'S "SHADED") 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.

Camila Flamiano Domonoske covers cars, energy and the future of mobility for NPR's Business Desk.