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Morning news brief

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

We're just hours away from a new deadline set by the United Auto Workers union.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah, we'll soon know whether more autoworkers will join the strike against the Big Three automakers.

FADEL: NPR's Andrea Hsu has been covering this story and joins us now. Hi, Andrea.

ANDREA HSU, BYLINE: Hi. Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So catch us up - how did the union get to this noon deadline?

HSU: Well, it's been exactly a week since the strike first began. Last Friday, we saw roughly 13,000 autoworkers walk off the job at all three of the Big Three at once - it was GM, Ford and Stellantis, the parent company of Chrysler - and that was a first for the union. And we have seen a ripple effect this week. All three companies have temporarily laid off workers who were not striking, a couple thousand in all, saying they can't properly do their jobs while the plants elsewhere in the supply chain are shut down. And earlier this week, we heard UAW President Shawn Fain get kind of impatient. He set a new deadline, saying if there's not serious progress in these talks by Friday - that's today at noon - we'll call on more workers to join the strike. So that's where we are now.

FADEL: OK, so what does serious progress mean?

HSU: Well, he didn't specify. And this is part of Shawn Fain's strategy, keeping everyone guessing. Now, it's important to note that talks have not reached an impasse. The parties have been trading proposals this week. Negotiators have been meeting face to face, having side conversations.

FADEL: OK.

HSU: And from what we can tell, they're still quite far apart on a lot of big issues from wages to how long it takes to get to the top wage and to retirement benefits. But at some point, Leila, you know, sooner - maybe sooner, maybe later, something's got to give.

FADEL: OK.

HSU: I spoke to a labor historian this week, Erik Loomis. And he reminded me, the auto companies and the union actually have some common goals. They both want the car companies to be profitable and to control a sizeable piece of the market.

ERIK LOOMIS: It's not the goal of the UAW to bring down Ford, GM and Chrysler, right? That's not the point. The point is to get a fair deal out of them.

HSU: But clearly, there remains a lot of disagreement over what's fair.

FADEL: Yeah, of course. So where does this leave workers? A week into this strike, how are they doing? What are you hearing from them?

HSU: Yeah, they appear pretty fired up. Of course, everyone's wondering, is my plant going to be next? There have been rallies this week outside Detroit, as well as last night in Chicago and Kentucky. Here was Rashad Martinez at one of those rallies last night. He works at the Ford plant in Louisville.

RASHAD MARTINEZ: Well, I got work tomorrow, so we'll be that crew to walk off. And I'll tell you, we're ready.

HSU: And we have heard some frustration from the rank and file about the strategy that the UAW has deployed of targeting just a few plants first. But there's also been a lot of praise, workers comparing it to a chess game or a game of battleship. You know, in Facebook comments, one person posted, Shawn Fain knows where all the boats are and he knows exactly how to sink them.

FADEL: OK, so it sounds like they have confidence in him. What are the automakers saying?

HSU: Well, this week, we've heard them fight back against some of the union rhetoric. You know, the UAW has been calling them out for being greedy and for paying poverty wages. GM President Mark Reuss had an op-ed in the Detroit Free Press this week saying, look, we've offered a 20% raise over four years. And that would bring most of our workers up to a base wage of $82,000 a year, and then close to double that when you add in overtime and benefits. And autoworkers do work a lot of overtime.

You know, he also stressed the need to reinvest those profits, including into electric vehicles. And he wrote, the auto company that doesn't invest in its own future gets left behind. The Big Three are already worried that their labor costs are much higher than that of their non-union competitors, Tesla, of course, and also Honda and Toyota, who have plants in the south.

FADEL: So it sounds like things may be changing this morning. If that happens, we'll come back to you. NPR's Andrea Hsu. Thanks, Andrea.

HSU: Thanks so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: Last week alone, more than 12,000 people from North Africa landed on the small Mediterranean island of Lampedusa.

MARTÍNEZ: That's double the island's population. Lampedusa is only 120 miles from Tunisia, but it belongs to Italy, which means migrants who land there have entered Europe, which is now once again trying to handle a migrant crisis that never really went away.

FADEL: NPR's Ruth Sherlock just returned from Lampedusa and joins us now from Rome. Good morning, Ruth.

RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So tell me about the situation there on the island.

SHERLOCK: Well, I should describe this island to you, Leila. It's tiny. It's 7 by 2 miles across with a population of about 6,000 people. And like A said there, you know, the town's deputy mayor estimates that twice the number of migrants arrived on the island as the population itself. The reception center was just overwhelmed. The migrants were hungry and exhausted, and they crowded the streets of the town, which are full of trinket shops for tourists. Mario Verde (ph) is a retired local I spoke with there. And he said, you know, it was residents who stepped in when the Italian Red Cross and others couldn't cope.

MARIO VERDE: (Non-English language spoken).

SHERLOCK: He says, they were all on the street asking for food. And what are we meant to do, not give them something to eat? No, everyone on the island rallied. You know, people let them into their homes to wash and shower. Now most of those migrants have been taken to Sicily or the mainland. But I found residents of Lampedusa still in rebellion, not against the migrants so much as the Italian government.

FADEL: In rebellion. Why are they upset with the Italian government?

SHERLOCK: Well, first, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, she campaigned on a promise to reduce the number of migrant arrivals to Italy. That clearly hasn't happened. There's about 130,000 people that arrived this year so far. And in Lampedusa, people are terrified that these arrivals mean they're going to lose their way of life. So Attilio Lucia is the town's deputy mayor, and he said, you know, he's scared that the island will become a kind of detention center.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ATTILIO LUCIA: (Non-English language spoken).

SHERLOCK: You'll hear him there talking about Alcatraz, the island prison. And he says, here we live from tourism and fishing, and we don't want that to change. Lucia and other residents are so sensitive to this that when the government recently tried to send tents to house the migrants, the islanders blocked the ship at the port that was carrying them.

FADEL: So people are really worried about migrants on the island. But also, it's a really dangerous journey for the people trying to make it. Many have died making that journey. What are EU governments doing about these things?

SHERLOCK: Absolutely. You know, the EU Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, is championing this 10-point plan that includes things like paying Tunisia, where lots of migrants set sail from, to more tightly patrol the waters there. And there's talk of, you know, standing with Italy. Like, von der Leyen even came to Lampedusa last week. But in practice, France is tightening its border controls. Other countries are doing the same.

And, you know, there is sympathy for what migrants are going through, but it doesn't seem like that is translating into European governments wanting to offer them a home. And so this migration crisis is straining the kind of norms and principles of things like freedom of movement and human rights that the European Union has traditionally tried to stand by.

FADEL: That's NPR's Ruth Sherlock in Rome. Thanks, Ruth.

SHERLOCK: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FADEL: A shaky cease-fire in the South Caucasus appears to be holding.

MARTÍNEZ: The former Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan says it has now reestablished control over the breakaway ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. That follows an Azerbaijani offensive earlier this week that the separatists say killed at least 200 people and injured many more.

FADEL: Joining us to talk about all this and the latest on the ground, as well as its impact on the region, is NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Hi, Charles.

CHARLES MAYNES, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: Good morning. So what's the latest?

MAYNES: Well, as you note, the cease-fire appears to be mostly holding. But it's a cease-fire, I should add, that's imposed entirely in Azerbaijan's favor. Baku stopped its military offensive, but on the condition Nagorno-Karabakh's army surrender. Azerbaijan's president, Ilham Aliyev, later declared that control over Nagorno-Karabakh had been completely restored. And so in little over a day, Azerbaijan appears to have crushed this decadeslong independence movement in Nagorno-Karabakh, what Armenians historically call Artsakh.

That's, of course, triggered concerns among ethnic Armenians about reprisals. There's a long, long history of bad blood between the two, but one that Azerbaijan insists it's trying to overcome. I spoke with Elin Suleymanov. He's Azerbaijan's current ambassador to the U.K., previously to the U.S., who argued reintegration talks, which got underway yesterday, were themselves a counterargument to any charges Azerbaijan intends to force out Armenians.

ELIN SULEYMANOV: Who does that if we want people to leave? We want to integrate them. We don't want them to leave. But we are not going to keep anybody by force if they don't want to be a citizen of Azerbaijan. I mean, this is a choice people have.

FADEL: Now, the fighting this week raised concern about a wider regional war with neighboring Armenia, which has fought two with Azerbaijan over this enclave, the last one in 2020. How are people reacting in Armenia to this offensive and now this truce?

MAYNES: Well, there's a lot of distrust of Azerbaijan in Armenia. So the government is bracing for a flow of refugees out of Nagorno-Karabakh, I mean, while the government is also bracing for more angry protests at home.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

MAYNES: So for a third straight night, we saw sizable demonstrations demanding the ouster of the prime minister, Nikol Pashinyan, over his failure or refusal to intervene on Nagorno-Karabakh's behalf. Now, Pashinyan has his reasons. Armenia is in a far weaker position militarily than Azerbaijan, in particular given Azerbaijan's backing from Turkey, its traditional ally. And Armenians are also frustrated, I should add, with Russia, their ally, for failing to prevent Azerbaijan from launching this offensive in the first place.

FADEL: OK, so what's Russia saying?

MAYNES: Well, Russia is completely wrapped up with the war in Ukraine, which seems to have impacted its ability to play its traditional role of regional cop. You know, not only was Moscow's peacekeeping force, which is on the ground there since 2020, not enforcing the peace as this new fighting broke out, but for months we've seen Russia look the other way as Azerbaijan imposed a partial blockade of goods into Nagorno-Karabakh.

You know, many saw this as reflecting Moscow's growing reliance on Azerbaijan and Turkey for trade, given Western sanctions. But, you know, also not helping things, Armenia's government has taken action seen as unfriendly by Moscow recently, including calling its reliance on Russia for its security a mistake. In fact, Armenia just hosted U.S. forces for training exercises. That didn't go over well here in Moscow.

FADEL: So we've talked about sort of the region, what's happening. But what does this mean for ethnic Armenians who are living in this enclave?

MAYNES: Well, what happens to ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh is the big question here. And depending on the answer, you could still see Armenia somehow drawn into yet another conflict with Azerbaijan. And that could trigger wider consequences, drawing bigger powers - like Russia, Turkey and even Iran to the west - to enter the fray as well.

FADEL: That's NPR's Charles Maynes in Moscow. Thanks, Charles.

MAYNES: Thank you. 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.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.