WASHINGTON − President Joe Biden had just landed in Philadelphia, where he would later extol the virtues of unions in a Labor Day speech, when he downplayed the possibility that auto workers could strike against the country’s three largest automakers.
“No, I’m not worried about a strike until it happens,” Biden told reporters this month. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
Two weeks later, the historic United Auto Workers strike at Stellantis, Ford and General Motors plants took place, and Biden dramatically changed his tone from “not to worry” to eventual walkout, he held firm to the UAW’s demands, making clear whose side he was on. is in a tense impasse.
It’s the most forceful public support for a negotiating party that Biden — who has said he wants to be known as “the most pro-union president” in U.S. history — has won in a conflict of private work since entering the White House.
And it comes as Biden leans on his pro-union credentials as he pushes a message for the working class in the 2024 election in hopes of winning Michigan’s critical rust belt states again , Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
“No one wants a strike. But I respect workers’ rights to use their options under the collective bargaining system. And I understand workers’ frustration,” Biden said in a speech from the White House on Friday, adding that workers deserve a “fair share” from automakers.
“The record corporate profits they are making should be shared by record contracts for the UAW,” Biden said.
Biden needs union workers in Michigan and other Midwest states
The UAW strike directly collided with the 2024 election.
A key factor in repeating Biden’s victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin is whether he can maintain the support of grassroots unionists who left the Democratic Party in the last two election cycles to vote for Donald Trump, the Republican. favorite again in 2024.
Despite support from the UAW and other unions in the 2020 election, Biden won the support of about six in 10 union members, according to voting by the Associated Press, a large but not overwhelming margin.
“It’s politically smart for him to be 100 percent behind the UAW, but it’s also what he really believes,” said David Cohen, a political science professor at the University of Akron. “It’s really the only position he can take, to be honest.”
Biden has faced additional pressure to express support for the UAW, as its strong embrace of electric vehicles as part of his climate agenda has caused friction with his union allies.
Manufacturing electric vehicles generally requires fewer workers. Biden has made it clear that he wants the transition to electric vehicles to create “good-paying union jobs.” But the UAW’s new leadership, led by President Shawn Fain, was furious after the Department of Energy awarded a $9.2 billion grant in June to Ford and a South Korean battery maker which lacked guarantees for workers.
“We’re looking for action, not words,” Fain said on CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday when asked about the UAW’s decision to suspend its support for the 2024 elections. He said the UAW’s support UAW had to be “deserved”.
Fain, in a statement after Biden’s White House speech, said: “We agree with Joe Biden when he says ‘record profits mean record contracts.’ We do not agree when he says that the negotiations have failed. Our elected national negotiators and UAW leaders are working hard at the bargaining table.
He accused automakers and the media of using “fear tactics” to suggest that striking autoworkers will destroy the economy.
“We are not going to destroy the economy. The truth is we are going to destroy the billionaire economy. Working people are not afraid. You know who is afraid? The big media is afraid. The White House is afraid. The companies are afraid,” Fain said.
Biden campaign hits back at Trump’s plans to visit Detroit
The UAW strike began at midnight Friday when nearly 13,000 workers walked out of the Ford Michigan assembly plant in Wayne, Mich., the Stellantis Toledo assembly complex in Ohio and GM assembly in Wentzville, Missouri. If the union and automakers fail to reach a tentative agreement, the UAW at one point announced plans to strike at more plants at all three companies.
Workers are calling for, among other demands, a 40 percent wage increase, a four-day work week, the elimination of a tiered wage system and the reinstatement of a 1980s-style pension plan.
Several Democratic lawmakers, including House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jefferies and Sen. John Fetterman, Democrat of Pennsylvania, as well as progressive independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont traveled to Michigan to join autoworkers on the picket lines.
Trump, who has argued that Biden’s support for electric vehicles endangers the careers of auto workers, will travel to the Detroit area on Sept. 27 rather than participate in the second GOP presidential primary debate.
“The United Auto Workers are being betrayed by this electric car scam,” Trump said on the Truth social media site.
The Biden campaign is working to counter these punches aggressively.
The campaign and its Democratic allies have highlighted the Trump administration’s “hostile policies” toward unions, 2017 corporate tax cuts and past comments questioning the industry bailout automobile by the federal government in 2008 under President Barack Obama.
“As President Trump comes next week and attempts to erase his history with Michigan workers, I think Michiganders will know the record and reject his anti-worker agenda,” said U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D. -Michigan, a Biden ally.
Before the 2016 election, Dingell correctly predicted that Trump could win Michigan.
“I said it because I was in these union halls. And Donald Trump has a skill – a skill that Democrats also have – which is understanding people’s concerns and anxieties,” Dingell said, adding that the Democrats haven’t done a good enough job. jobs runs counter to Trump’s emphasis on trade policy in 2016. “We won’t make this mistake again.”
Some Democrats have urged Biden to join strikers on the picket line, but the White House has given no indication that the president would take such unprecedented action.
Meanwhile, Fain urged other UAW members to reject Trump’s overtures.
“Every fiber of our union is invested in fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of working people,” Fain said in a statement Tuesday. “We cannot continue to elect billionaires and millionaires who don’t understand what it means to live paycheck to paycheck and who are struggling to get by and who expect them to solve the problems of working class.”
The White House remains out of the negotiations
For now, the White House is keeping negotiations between the UAW and auto workers at bay. Acting Department of Labor Secretary Julie Su and White House Advisor Gene Sperling will travel to Detroit this week, not to act as mediators, but rather to offer support if requested by the parties. .
That stands in stark contrast to Biden’s direct intervention as railroad workers threatened a strike that would have crippled goods deliveries. Unlike the auto workers’ strike, the federal government plays a unique role in defining contracts in rail disputes.
In April, Biden expressed support for Amazon workers’ right to unionize. The White House said all workers, including actors, should be paid fairly in response to the Writers Guild of America strike. But Biden’s comments on the UAW strike went beyond either of those situations.
The White House says Biden’s support for UAW strikers is consistent with statements he made before the strike,
Biden, in an Aug. 14 statement, said “the UAW deserves a contract that supports the middle class.” Later, on September 1, Biden praised federal funding that will “help existing workers keep their jobs” after the federal government made $12 billion available to help businesses ease the transition to electric vehicles. The UAW also welcomed the funding.
“Just as we build an economy of the future, we need labor agreements for the future,” Biden said Friday. “I hope the parties can return to the negotiating table to forge a win-win agreement.”
Contact Joey Garrison on X, formerly known as Twitter, @joeygarrison.