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UAW Launches Historic Strike Against Big Three Automakers; Special Counsel May Bring More Charges Against Hunter Biden; Libya Floods: Thousands Dead, 10,000-Plus Missing. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired September 15, 2023 - 09:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: On strike and ready to fight. Thousands of auto world workers are on the picket lines this morning, striking against all three of the big auto companies at the very same time for the -- and for the first time ever. The very high stakes now for the workers, for the companies, and for the broader economy.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: New reporting this morning that Hunter Biden could face even more federal charges and suit.

BOLDUAN: Rain and wind is threatening the East Coast today. Hurricane Lee heading north and New England and parts of Canada are on alert.

I'm Kate Bolduan with John Berman. Sara Sidner's off today. This is CNN News Central.

Thousands of union auto workers are on the picket lines. This isn't just any strike. This is an historic strike, a coordinated strike against all of the big three U.S. automakers simultaneously for the first time. United Auto Workers Union is using also a new strategy, using targeted strikes, as they're calling it, calling on workers to walk off right now at only three plants so far but that could change and this could grow.

Union leaders say the plan is to slow production across North America while they negotiate new contracts. Nearly 13,000 workers across Ford, GM, Stellantis, which owns Jeep and Dodge among other brands, they are on strike now. And what they're asking for, better wages, better benefits and job protections for the workers. They're also demanding what they're calling a just transition as automakers pivot to electric vehicles.

But there is a lot within this. Let's get to it. CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich. She's at GM's headquarters in Detroit. CNN's Arlette Saenz is outside the White House. As we've also just learned, we're going to be hearing from President Biden on this.

Vanessa, first to you. You spoke to the GM, to the CEO of GM just now. What did she tell you? Where do things stand?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS & POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, she is watching this very closely as nearly 13,000 UAW members are heading out on strike this morning and throughout the day. One of her plants is being impacted by this.

And there is concern from Mary Barra, the CEO of General Motors, what kind of long-term ripple effect this will have, especially as the company has invested so much money into the transition to electric vehicles. She also said that she was disappointed that they did not come to a deal last night before the deadline.

And she expressed frustration with the union. She says she wants to get them back to the negotiating table to get a deal done as soon as possible. Take a listen to what she told me just moments ago.


MARY BARRA, CEO, GENERAL MOTORS: We have a very compelling offer on the table. I'm very frustrated because I think we had an offer that resonates with our people. It's a historic offer. Gross wage increases of 20 percent. That compound to 21 percent. Maintaining world class health care. There's several aspects as well.

But I think one thing that's most important is job security. And, you know, we're in an incredibly exciting time in this industry right now as we make the transformation from internal combustion engine vehicles to electric vehicles. And General Motors is well poised. We have a pipeline coming.

And so, when we look at that and we look at how this could, you know, delay that, it's at a critical juncture. So we have a deal that I think is very, very important. That proposal fits at the table. Our team is ready to be at the table again. They're waiting, and we need to get back. We need the UAW leadership to get back to the table, get these issues resolved so we can get people back to work.


YURKEVICH: Now, Mary Barra has called her offer historic. Ford, Stellantis saying the same thing, but the union saying it's not good enough. As you mentioned, they are demanding those 40 percent in pay wage increases over the next four years.

But later today, we are expected to see the president of the UAW, Shawn Fain, at a rally with Bernie Sanders. We know that the UAW does not plan to negotiate with the Big Three today. Mary Barra also said that she is in contact with the White House, with the administration and elected officials, basically explaining to them what's been going on, saying that they want to get the UAW back to the table to make this deal.

Today is day one, guys. There's a lot more to come in the next couple days and possibly weeks if this drags on. Kate?


BOLDUAN: Yes. Vanessa, thank you so much for being there. Great reporting, as always. Let's get over to the White House now. Arlette, what are we going to hear from President Biden, do you think, when when he comes out to speak, because what he says is going to be very interesting is he's been walking a fine line up to this point?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he really has caved. So people will be watching this remarks from President Biden to see if he potentially could voice some support for one side of negotiations, or if he can offer any type of remedies for the potential economic fallout that could come from this auto strike.

But look, what's unique in this situation is the White House has -- does not have any legal authority to be direct party to these talks. But they have been engaged as these negotiations have played out. In the final hours yesterday, President Biden got on the phone with UAW President Shawn Fain as well as the leaders of the Big Three automakers trying to get a firm grasp on where the negotiations stood.

The White House has been encouraging both sides to negotiate around the clock to secure what the White House hopes will be a win-win agreement for both sides. But one of the main concerns for the White House as the strike is beginning to play out is what the economic fallout could potentially be. So we will see whether there are any steps that are under consideration to potentially blunt the economic impact.

Of course, there are suppliers that are -- could be at risk during the strike as well. There's also political issues for President Biden as he is trying to get union support heading into the 2024 elections. So those are all some of the challenges facing the President as this strike is now in its early stages.

BOLDUAN: All right. Thank you so much, Arlette.

Let's talk more about this -- Vanessa, thank you as well. Let's talk more about this. Joining us now is Bob King, he's a former president of the UAW. Bob, thank you so much for coming in. We are now hearing a lot from workers. We're hearing -- we just heard from Mary Barra, speaking to my colleague, Vanessa Yurkevich. From your perspective, what does today mean with this historic strike in this moment?

BOB KING, FORMER UAW PRESIDENT: Well, you know, I was there when workers made huge sacrifices, many, many changes in how we operated and plants. Workers are suffering. I think in the case of Sarah chambers, 16 years she has been working for Ford, and this is true for Stellantis and GM too. Many members, there are these long periods and still taking that long to get to top pay, that's wrong. That's morally wrong to me.

And these companies are in great shape. I saw a Morgan Stanley report that said that Ford or GM, Stellantis, they could weather a 40 percent increase in labor costs. So all this baloney about these are too rich in demands, they're going to make the companies unstable. That's just untrue.

If you know about labor costs, labor costs in the Morgan Stanley report, they're only 4 percent of revenue. For the labor costs in the manufacturing of the vehicle, it's less than 10 percent. It's probably about 4 percent or 5 percent. These are reasonable legitimate demands. Members won't accept unless they got a good contract.

BOLDUAN: And I wanted to ask you about -- you're talking about some of the data that you're seeing, and what the companies could give and how they could give more. You've probably heard Mary Barra telling my colleagues just now that this -- what they have on the table, they call it a compelling offer, a gross wage increase of 20 percent. And most importantly, they say, job security.

I want to play for you what the the CEO of Ford said about the 40 percent in wage increase over four years means for Ford. Here's Jim Farley, listen, Bob.


JIM FARLEY, CEO, FORD MOTOR COMPANY: 40 percent will put us out of business. We would lose $15 billion. We would have to plan -- cut people, close plants, what's the good of that?


BOLDUAN: Does he have a point? You guys are clearly very far apart. But if he says they're going to under if they would agree to this.

KING: I just don't think that's accurate. How can you -- again, think about that the Canadian auto workers say it's only 3.7 percent of the cost of manufacturing a car is labor costs. It's more in the U.S. because we don't have national health care. They should be working to get that done. They spend over $1 billion a year on health care yet they won't partner with UAW to get Medicare for all.

I mean, if they want to be competitive, they would be going to President Biden saying, help us get what they call sectoral bargaining. That everybody in the industry, every worker in the industry would get whatever you bargained for at the top table.

If -- there are many ways to be competitive in a win-win scenario. When they were in trouble, we work together with a win-win mentality. Now that they're making the billions and billions and billions of dollars, put yourself in the place of a worker. You're on the line, you're working every day. You're making a half the pay or 25 percent less than a member right next to you, nobody thinks that's right.


The American public 75 percent side with the UAW in these negotiations, because people are tired of corporations, really exploiting workers and getting these huge salary increases. Jim Farley, Mary Barra, they get 40 percent increases in the last four years. And workers only get 6 percent inflation's like double digit. Come on.

We want something fair. We're not asking for something unreasonable. UAW is asking for something fair. BOLDUAN: We know President Biden is going to be speaking a little later in the show. And he's walked somewhat of a fine line talking about these negotiations up to this point. We do know that the administration has gotten directly involved in union -- in contract negotiations with unions and other industries.

What -- clearly, they have not yet here. What do you want to hear from him? Is President Biden getting involved? Does that help you?

KING: I don't know. It depends on what he says. He should be -- easy for me to say. He should be, I think, advocating to give these workers a fair share. And then he should be offering to work with the companies to pass sectoral bargaining legislation. That's no easy task.

But at least it's a path to keep -- and that wouldn't help auto companies, that would help American companies across many, many different sectors. If we want to keep good manufacturing jobs, good middle class jobs in the U.S., we got to have national industrial policies that help do that.

In Germany, look what, they pay, you know, tremendously more than what UAW members get. And their company, Volkswagen, all the German comes, they're tremendously competitive. They have been for forever. So workers could do much, much better than they are now.

Again, think about that hourly worker, every day bust in their rear end for Ford or GM or Chrysler. They deserve a middle class standard of living where they can buy a vehicle, they can buy a home. Workers in the tear system now cannot do that. That's not good for the economy.

Make this final point. Yes, the economy would be hurt for a little bit by a strike. But the economy and the workforce will be far better off if the outcome which I think it will be is substantially improved wages and benefits for workers and job security. And then the economy will boom as workers get more money. They'll spend more money. That'll be good in the long term for the economy.

BOLDUAN: Bob King, thanks for coming in this morning. John?

KING: Thank you very much.

BERMAN: All right, this morning, we are learning that Hunter Biden could soon see even more charges. The Special Counsel David Weiss has signaled these new charges against Biden could come in the next few weeks. He is currently facing three felony counts for allegedly lying about his drug use when he bought and possessed a gun in 2018.

If convicted on all three counts, the stiffest possible sentence would be as much as 25 years in prison and up to $750,000 in fines. That's unlikely, but still, it's possible.

Katelyn Polantz joins us now. What's coming next, Katelyn?

KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN SENIOR CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: Well, John, what's coming next is Hunter Biden is going to have to go back to court, he's in California, he's going to have to go to Delaware, and he's going to have to enter his initial pleading here. Very likely a not guilty, pleading right now that he has been charged with three different crimes related to gun possession.

Basically trying to enforce -- or the Justice Department trying to enforce gun control laws, they're on the books, that bar people who have some sort of drug issue or have been taking drugs from obtaining and possessing a weapon.

And so what happened is this case against Hunter Biden, right now, in federal court in Delaware, it's about 11 days in October of 2018, where Hunter Biden submitted some written statements to a gun dealer and was able to get a firearm and at the time was saying that he was not under the influence of illegal drugs.

He subsequently has said publicly that he was a drug user around that time. And so that is what is being charged here in this case, but this is the culmination of a five-year investigation by David Weiss, who is now the Special Counsel overseeing this probe around Hunter Biden.

And there are a number of things that Weis has looked at in the past related to Hunter Biden that could still materialize in other legal issues for him, namely, the possibility that he committed some tax offenses. We know that Weiss has also looked at foreign lobbying issues and other financial issues related to Hunter Biden in the past.

And so, Weiss is still the special counsel will keep pushing forward in this investigation as this case now moves in the court, in Delaware, in federal court. But we also know, John, that Hunter Biden's team, they thought they had a deal before and now they're gearing up to put on a full defense potentially take this to trial.


They also want to contest whether this law is even constitutional under the Second Amendment to charge Hunter Biden with a gun possession and a false statements crime when he obtained that gun. And then on top of that, not just that constitutional issue they're going to be contesting, they also are going to be contesting whether or not he had a deal. And that deal should be honored by the Justice Department. John?

BERMAN: But Katelyn, if there are new charges coming, what might they be and when would they come? Is there any reporting on that?

POLANTZ: Well, we know John, that David Weiss, who previously, before he was the special counsel was a U.S. attorney looking at Hunter Biden, that he did want to charge him in some way. He wanted to have a deal on some tax misdemeanors essentially related to Hunter Biden not paying his taxes a few years ago.

And so there is a question that remains out there on whether Weiss will be able to and will want to charge that against Hunter Biden in the future. John?

BERMAN: All right, Katelyn Polantz, thank you so much.

With us now is former Federal Prosecutor Gene Rossi. Counselor, thank you so much for being with us right now. If you're defending Hunter Biden, at this moment, and you've now been charged with this gun issue, what would you be doing? Is there a way out of this for him?

GENE ROSSI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Yes, and I got to say that Hunter Biden has hired one of the best trial attorneys in America, Abbe Lowell, and I'm going to give him some free advice. If he wants to pay me, he can't.

He has a four or five prong attack. Number one, given the Fifth Circuit's ruling on 922(g)(3), a user, Fifth Circuit said that's unconstitutional under Second Amendment. That's motion number one. Abinitio, you file that, the minute you're arraigned.

The second motion would be a motion for specific performance to force the government to honor the diversion agreement, which was a cluster in a kerfuffle a couple of weeks ago in front of the judge in Delaware. And I got to blame the Justice Department, they should have had their t's crossed and their i's dotted before they walked into the courtroom, they did not.

The third and fourth motion would be a motion for selective prosecution and a motion for vindictive prosecution. And the fifth would be the facts. When Hunter Biden filled out that form and he had the gun for 11 days, when he filled out the form, did he have the willfulness, the criminal intent to lie?

And there's an argument that he was recovering, and he didn't think he was in violation of that form 4473, which is what the (a)(6) charge, 922(a)(6). I got to add this, John, I really do. I tried 110 cases. I supervise 500 or more baby and senior prosecutors. They would bring in this book into my office, which is mostly the tax code and the criminal code.

And the issue for a prosecutor is not whether you can charge somebody, not whether you can, but whether you should and whether you should exercise discretion. Let me give you a case real quickly, please. In May of 2020, I tried Anthony Virgil Jasper, he had 30 criminal convictions. I'm not making this up. His nickname was weasel.

He engaged in a home invasion with a buddy and they beat the heck out of two people and stole firearms. In that case, we indicted 922(g)(3), which I consider in his Hunter case, a Weasel charge, pun intended. But we exercise discretion to include it because there was intrinsic to Weasel's crime.

Hunter Biden is being punished because of his last name. And this really, to me, is a bazooka killing a mosquito.

BERMAN: Thank you for citing the precedent of U.S. versus Weasel. Gene, I do -- the four-point plan you gave here for Hunter Biden to deal with this was to try to beat it. That's -- those four points are to beat this charge either with the facts in court or to get it thrown out altogether. Is there any chance of a deal still at this point? ROSSI: I don't -- I think the horse has left the barn. I don't think there's a chance. I don't -- I'm not close with Abbe Lowell. He doesn't call me. I suspect just reading the tea leaves, there's no hope for a plea. I think they're going to go to trial or file the motion. And it's actually a five-point plan because a fifth-point is they have an argument before a jury that this is their -- John, I have not seen a (g)(3), a user charge in any of those statistics that people are talking about.


It was in my case in May of '20, I've never heard of it other than my case, a (g)(3), other than recent charges after Hunter Biden.

BERMAN: Gene Rossi, Abbe Lowell doesn't need to call you because he can watch you right here on CNN News Central. We appreciate your time as always. Kate?

BOLDUAN: Coming up for us, destruction of mythic proportions. That is what some reporters are seeing as they get on the ground in Libya. Over 5,000 people already confirmed dead. More than 10,000 people still missing. We will -- CNN is on the ground. We will take you there.

Plus this morning. Donald Trump says that he would testify in the classified documents case against him. Really? He also said that he would not pardon himself if he won reelection. Really? That's it.

And hurricane watches have been issued for parts of New England, the New England coast, as Hurricane Lee moves toward land. We'll be back.



BOLDUAN: United Nations now says that most of the deaths in Libya's catastrophic flood could have been avoided. After a devastating 22 foot wave crashed into the northern city of Derna, 30,000 people have no place to go. And that's just in Derna.

Entire neighborhoods swept out to sea. 5,000 people are confirmed dead so far, 10,000 people are still missing. CNN is the only U.S. network on the ground in Libya.

Jomana Karadsheh is there.

JOMANA KARADSHEH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've all covered wars, natural disasters before, but none of us have seen anything like this. I mean, we drove into Derna late last night, and even during nighttime in the dark, you could still see the destruction.

And now during the day, this is just utter, utter destruction. And it really feels like you're walking through a war zone. Like massive bombs had gone off here. And this is what people here would tell you. You know, you've got several cities along the Libyan coast that were impacted by Storm Daniel, by the flooding over the weekend, but nothing like this, what people are describing here as this catastrophe.

What happened in Derna, of course, as you know, is those two dams that burst. And you have the floodwaters that swept through the (INAUDIBLE) of the city, washing out entire buildings, neighborhoods, homes, infrastructure, families, and brought it all down here to the sea, to the Mediterranean.

I mean, this is just -- it's very difficult for us to really move the camera around because of the communication issues. The communications were disrupted in the city, so our connection is not very stable. But looking into the sea, what we see here is people's lives in there.

You see homes, you see doorframes, windows, furniture, clothes, cars, everything. And they are still, right now, searching for dead bodies. Bodies that are still washing up on the shore six days after this tragedy happened.

Right now, Libyan officials are saying about 5,000 people have been killed. There are still 10,000 people unaccounted for. And officials that we've been speaking to say they don't expect to find any more --

BOLDUAN: Our Jomana Karadsheh on the ground in Derna, Libya for us. The pictures, there's no words.

BERMAN: I just think it's extraordinary that we're there. This is not an easy place for any journalist to get to in the best of times and to have Jomana there to see this firsthand. These are extraordinary horrifying images.

BOLDUAN: Some of the accounts that I was reading just like entire neighborhoods swept out to see. There's -- what do you do?

BERMAN: Just chilling.

All right, brand new comments from Donald Trump on the Mar-a-Lago documents case. What he says he did, did not do, and what he claims he had a right to do. Remember, everything he says now can be used in court.