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United Auto Workers experiences ‘overwhelming’ public support on Day 4 of its strike.

UAW Local 2250 workers strike in front of a General Motors Assembly Plant entrance in Wentzville on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. The plant is one of three national automaker plants that went on strike Friday. Some plant workers protested in silence and others cheered along with drivers who honked as they passed. Union workers are calling for a contract that includes a wage increase, improved job security and better retiree pay.
Andrea Henderson
/
St. Louis Public Radio
UAW Local 2250 workers strike in front of a General Motors Assembly Plant entrance in Wentzville on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. The plant is one of three national automaker plants that went on strike Friday. Some plant workers protested in silence and others cheered along with drivers who honked as they passed. Union workers are calling for a contract that includes a wage increase, improved job security and better retiree pay.

The UAW strike comes after months of heightened strike activity in the U.S.

On Day 4 of the United Auto Workers strike, union member Sonya Wagner is determined. She has worked at General Motors Co.'s Wentzville Assembly plant for 10 years.

“We want to end the tiers [system] — no more second-class workers — restore COLA [cost-of-living adjustments], fair pay for our families, secure jobs, no plant closures, and good EV [electric vehicle] jobs,” she said. “We don't expect to make what a CEO makes, but we expect to make a livable wage, where we can at least buy the products we are making.”

Wagner and her colleagues were among the first UAW members in the nation to strike against General Motors, Ford and Stellantis. All three companies say there are limits to what they can pay their workers.

UAW President Shawn Fain told NPR the union had "minimal conversations" with all three companies over the weekend.

"We have a long way to go," he said. "And if the company does not respect the demands of our workers, then we will escalate action."

Jake Rosenfeld, a sociology professor at Washington University in St. Louis, said it is notable that the UAW strike comes after months of heightened strike activity in the U.S.

“What you've seen in the last year or two — certainly as we emerge from the pandemic — is that workers and the unions that represent them are much more willing to exercise their muscle in ways we haven't seen in decades,” he said.

Rosenfeld said there’s been an uptick in public support of unions in recent years as well.

“We've seen the public come along and, through poll after poll, express real support for unions, but we don't want to overstate the case. Strike activity still remains way below levels that this country experienced in the '60s and '70s,” he said.

Rosenfeld added that while there's “overwhelming” support for UAW workers relative to the automakers, “As the strike drags out, and as the economic impact becomes very real, you might see that change.”

According to GM, one effect of the UAW strike is that the company’s Fairfax Assembly plant in Kansas could shut down this week.

“This is due to a shortage of critical stampings supplied by Wentzville’s stamping operations to Fairfax,” according to a statement issued by GM on Friday. “Its 2,000 team members [are] expected to be idled as soon as early next week. Unfortunately, there are no provisions that allow for company-provided SUB-pay in this circumstance.”

For Wagner, these effects are par for the course, though she does hope that UAW and GM will come to an agreement soon.

“I am aware that in Fairfax, the stamping part — they are not able to get that from us. Then that, in fact, will then lay their employees off, [who] wouldn't get any SUB-pay. But we are all in this fight together because whatever is won is for everybody, not just Wentzville,” she said. “The time is now for us to get what we deserve.”

To learn more about the UAW strike and the effects it may have, hear Elaine Cha’s interview with Sonya Wagner and Jake Rosenfeld on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast, or by clicking the play button below.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Emily Woodbury