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Morning news brief

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Some of the United Auto Workers are on a historic strike this morning.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The autoworkers union is striking at three assembly plants, one Ford, one General Motors and one Stellantis, which is the parent of Chrysler and Jeep - one plant in Michigan, one plant in Missouri, one in Ohio. Other plants operate for now, although the union says it can expand the strike depending on the progress of talks with the automakers. We've been reporting all week on the autoworkers' bid for higher pay and a shorter workweek.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Camila Domonoske is at the picket line at the Ford plant in Wayne, Mich. Camila, what are you seeing there?

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Yeah, and what am I hearing? You might be able to hear some cars going by, honking in support here. This is a big plant. There are a lot of gates. And you just drive down, walk down the street. Every gate has picketers out in front with UAW on strike signs. They've been here since midnight.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So what are union members, then, telling you about why they felt they had to do this?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, they say the offer from the automakers simply isn't good enough. Here's Ali al-Amara (ph).

ALI AL-AMARA: We want to see everything that we lost 15 years ago and we had to give back to the company.

DOMONOSKE: And, you know, big picture, there's just so much history playing into these particular strikes. The style of strike they're doing is a throwback to the 1930s. The demands they're making, they harken back to the 1970s and, really, the heyday of the union's strength. The resistance - the companies' really firm resistance on some of these demands also dates back to the bad years after, where the obligations to the union were really a financial challenge for the American automakers.

And then you just heard there from al-Amara, workers gave up so much in 2007, 2009, things like pensions, things like guaranteed pay when plants were closed. And then, since then, the automakers have been thriving and they haven't. So it's really about all of that history between the union and the companies and a fight over what the future of that relationship is going to look like.

MARTÍNEZ: So what exactly are the specific demands of the United Auto Workers?

DOMONOSKE: Well, there are a lot of them. You know, they were pushing for a significant pay raise of 40%. The automakers offered raises of 20%, which is more than they had before. The union has also pushed for cost of living pay adjustments that are tied to inflation. The automakers have moved on that, but not enough, the union says.

The real sticking points are things like pensions and benefits for retirees and pay for workers whose plants are shut down. These are the kinds of benefits that the union used to have years ago, hasn't had for years. The companies say they are just too expensive for them to cover and be competitive with non-unionized workforces. And the union says that's a race to the bottom. And they really want to see those kinds of things that were once the hallmark of union jobs, they want to see them come back.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. And Steve mentioned earlier striking at three different plants in three different states. What's behind that strategy?

DOMONOSKE: Yeah, it's unusual. It's unusual to strike all three of the companies at once. And it's unusual to only strike some plants versus all of them at a given company. Shawn Fain, the president of the United Auto Workers, he's told reporters he doesn't want to say too much about the strategy because part of the point is to keep companies guessing, that they don't know what plants could close next. I have spoken to labor experts who say, you know, part of this is about conserving resources. You start small and then you can strike for longer.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, I know actors and screenwriters are still on strike. UPS workers almost went on strike. What do you think the effect of this autoworkers strike will be beyond this industry?

DOMONOSKE: So the economic impacts really depend on how long the strike lasts, how big these strikes get. This industry is not the same as UPS, where that threatened strike would have had a really immediate and tremendous economic impact. If it stays small and short, the impact will probably be pretty constrained. A longer, bigger strike really would have ripple effects. But the other thing here is the deal that the union manages to get, if they get a better deal through the strike, that could have an impact. The UAW has clearly been inspired by other union wins in pushing so aggressively for these demands. So if the union gets a big win here, that could be a boost for labor more broadly.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Camila Domonoske in Wayne, Mich. Camila, thanks.

DOMONOSKE: Thanks, A.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTÍNEZ: The Centers for Disease Control gave one recommendation for the new COVID-19 booster shot, the state of Florida is giving another.

INSKEEP: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is running for president partly on his record opposing COVID regulations, and his state government is making an issue of the booster shot. The federal advice is that anyone over 6 months old could use this booster. Florida's surgeon general says far fewer people should get the shot and that healthy people under age 65 should avoid it.

MARTÍNEZ: John Davis joins us now from our member station WGCU in Fort Myers, Fla. John, so how did Florida officials justify their own recommendations over those from the CDC?

JOHN DAVIS, BYLINE: Well, they claim there isn't enough data to show the vaccine is safe and effective. But, of course, there's overwhelming evidence that it is safe and effective. Governor DeSantis and state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo have criticized both the CDC vaccine booster recommendation and the FDA's approval of it on a Zoom call. At another recent press event, Ladapo mentioned studies - that he didn't cite - claiming they show apparent evidence that vaccines actually increase a person's chances of contracting COVID.

Of course, health experts say these kinds of unproven claims are - they just add to the misinformation that's already out there. And DeSantis' GOP presidential campaign has been quick to start fundraising around the Florida-specific response, promising to fight what they characterize as government overreach when it comes to pandemic precautions. But we should point out that there is no mandate with these boosters. This is all just about recommendations.

MARTÍNEZ: So what do health providers say?

DAVIS: Well, I contacted Lee Health, which is the biggest health system in this area. They were clear that they're going to continue following CDC guidance on vaccines, which recommend most people 6 months of age or older get the shot, but especially those 65 and older, as they're at higher risk of severe symptoms should they contract the virus. Here's what infectious disease expert Dr. Mary Beth Saunders had to say.

MARY BETH SAUNDERS: People do need to get vaccinated. If they're unsure, talk to their health care provider so they can be guided as to what's best for them. And even though there is a lot of information on social media, that may not be the best guidance, right? We need to make our decisions based on the scientific facts and what is best for our own health.

MARTÍNEZ: And then, John, all this comes as COVID hospitalizations in Florida, the rates are not very good. Is that something to worry about?

DAVIS: Certainly. According to CDC data, we have some of the highest rates in the country of COVID-related hospital admissions. Even Dr. Saunders says they experienced an increase in hospitalizations a few weeks ago. Fortunately, that has since declined somewhat. But of course, these hospitalization levels are nowhere near where they were at the height of the pandemic. And there's also a little worry that the vaccine booster may get here a little late because of ongoing impacts from Hurricane Idalia on infrastructure. But Lee Health expects to have boosters ready sometime in October.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's John Davis with WGCU in Fort Myers. John, thanks a lot for your reporting.

DAVIS: Thank you.

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MARTÍNEZ: How do people in eastern Libya resume life in their devastated cities?

INSKEEP: Flooding in the city of Derna collapsed high-rise buildings in seconds a few days ago. Libya's Red Crescent says more than 11,000 people were killed in the city, and that is not a final number.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Aya Batrawy is covering the story, joins us now from Dubai. What do we know about the situation in this city today?

AYA BATRAWY, BYLINE: We actually still don't know the full number of dead. But what we can see clearly from satellite images of Derna before and after Sunday night's storm is the scale of this devastation. Before the storm, the city of about 100,000 people in the eastern part of Libya had this gorgeous Mediterranean coastline. And now residents say the city is wrecked, buried under mud and completely unrecognizable. And in those before and after satellite images, you can see soccer pitches where kids once played, mosques that served the community, entire buildings. And now they've just vanished.

All the bridges that connect the city's east to west were destroyed and wiped out when this heavy rainfall from a storm burst two dams in the city. And the deputy mayor of Derna, the city, told Al Jazeera those dams hadn't been maintained in over 20 years. So when those dams burst around 3 a.m., in the middle of the night, you can imagine, most people were asleep. Some people did try climbing to rooftops, but even that couldn't save some of them because their buildings just crumbled under the weight of this tsunami-like torrent of water. So now you have about a third of the city's residents homeless, medical services overstretched, roads cut off between eastern cities in Libya, and the threat of disease and contaminated water from all of this.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow, all that just sounds awful. What are people there saying?

BATRAWY: Well, there's a collective trauma. I mean, you have people who've lost their children, their spouses, their parents. They just vanished within seconds. These bodies were swept out into the sea. There may never be closure for them. There may never be burials. My colleague, Fatima al-Kassab, she reached Dr. Najib Tarhoni in the eastern city of Benghazi in Libya. He has relatives in Derna who survived.

NAJIB TARHONI: The city is no longer livable. These people now need jobs. They need taking care of, psychological support. The stories are horrifying. They have seen death not just in their families, but within themselves as well. Their souls are crushed. Their hope is lost. How can you come back from such a thing?

MARTÍNEZ: Aya, we know that Libyans from across the country are trying their best to help and international aid is on the way. Some are saying, though, it's not getting to Derna quickly enough and that this tragedy might have been avoided.

BATRAWY: I mean, yeah, just start with the country's oil reserves. This country should be prosperous. But for the past 10 years, it's been under two divided governments, divided rule. You have one government claiming authority in Tripoli, the capital. You have another government claiming authority in the east, in Benghazi. And you can imagine how that's gotten in the way of everything, including the relief effort.

You know, even just journalists and aid workers trying to get into Libya are finding a logistical nightmare to do this. Visas issued from Tripoli might not be recognized in Benghazi. You know, security permits issued from Benghazi might not be recognized at certain border crossings. And all of this makes aid getting in extremely difficult. It's also not clear if people even got warnings to evacuate even though it was known that this storm was coming. The ones paying the price for all of this are the people of Libya and, unfortunately, this city.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Aya Batrawy in Dubai. Aya, thank you very much for your reporting.

BATRAWY: 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.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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.