President Biden sided with the striking United Auto Workers on Friday, sending two of his top aides to Detroit and calling on America’s three largest auto companies to share their profits with workers whose wages and benefits he said have been unfairly reduced for years.
In a brief statement from the White House hours after the union began what it called a targeted strike, Mr. Biden acknowledged that automakers had made “significant offers” during contract negotiations, but there was no doubt the his intention to fulfill a promise in 2020. to always be behind the unions.
“Over the generations, autoworkers have sacrificed so much to keep the industry alive and strong, especially during the economic crisis and pandemic,” Mr. Biden said. “Workers deserve a fair share of the benefits they helped create.”
Mr. Biden said Julie Su, the acting labor secretary, and Gene Sperling, a top White House economic adviser, would go to Michigan immediately to try to get both sides back to the bargaining table. But he said the automakers “must go further to ensure that the company’s record revenue means record contracts for the UAW”
For decades, Mr. Biden has been an unapologetic supporter of unions who rejects even the approach of some Democrats when it comes to balancing the interests of corporate America and the labor movement.
In the past few years, he has helped nurture what polls suggest is a resurgence of support for unions, as younger Americans in new jobs in the economy push for the right to organize locally. of work. Mr. Biden declared that “unions built the middle class” in nearly every speech he gave.
“That was the most pro-union statement from a White House in decades, if not longer,” Eddie Vale, a veteran Democratic strategist who worked for years with the AFL-CIO, said after the president’s speech.
The president’s decision to weigh in on the union side without much hesitation is likely to draw heavy criticism from various quarters. Earlier in the day — before the president’s White House could comment — Suzanne P. Clark, the head of the US Chamber of Commerce, issued a defiant statement blaming the strike at Mr. Biden’s feet.
“The UAW strike and indeed the ‘summer of strikes’ is a natural result of the Biden administration’s ‘whole of government’ approach to promoting unionization at all costs,” said Ms. Clark, the president of the nation’s largest business lobbying group.
He predicted that the strike would have “far-reaching negative consequences for our economy.”
And in a possible preview of a rematch with former President Donald J. Trump, NBC on Friday aired part of an interview in which Mr. Trump has sided strongly with car companies against unions.
“The autoworkers don’t have any jobs, Kristen, because all these cars are going to be made in China,” said Mr. Trump in an interview that will air Sunday on the network’s “Meet the Press” program. “The autoworkers are being sold down the river by their leadership, and their leadership should be endorsing Trump.”
Friday’s UAW walkout was in some ways a broader test of Mr. Biden’s economic agenda more than his pro-union stance. It also discusses his call for higher wages for the middle class; his climate-driven push to reimagine the future of an electric vehicle for car companies; and his call for higher taxes for the rich. The strike is centered on Michigan, a state the president almost must win in 2024 to stay in the Oval Office.
“You have to rebuild the middle class and rebuild things here,” Mr. Vale said. “You have green energy, technology and jobs. You have important states up for election. So it all comes together here in one round.
In the White House, Mr. Biden’s aides believe the battle between the auto companies and their workers will underscore many of the president’s arguments about the need to reduce income inequality. , the benefits of empowered employees, and the increase in income for companies like automakers that make higher wages more affordable.
That strategy is at the heart of the economic argument that Mr. Biden and his campaign team are preparing next year. But it sometimes conflicts with the president’s other priorities, including the shift toward electric vehicles.
Mr. Biden’s push for cars powered by batteries instead of combustion engines is seen by many unions as a threat to workers who have toiled for decades to produce cars that run on gas. Unions want factories that make electric cars — most of which are non-union — to see higher wages and benefits as well.
So far, Mr. Biden has avoided the question of whether his push for a green auto industry will hasten the demise of unions. But Friday’s remarks were an indication that he remains as committed as ever to the political organizations that have been central to his ruling coalition for years.
In his remarks on Friday, he indicated the tension inherent in the technological transition from one mode of propulsion to another.
“I believe the transition should be fair, and a win-win for autoworkers and auto companies,” he said. But he added: “I also believe that the contract agreement should lead to a vibrant ‘Made in America’ future that promotes good, strong middle-class jobs where workers can raise a family, if where the UAW remains at the heart of our economy, and where the Big Three companies continue to lead in innovation, excellence, quality and leadership.
The targeted strike is designed to disrupt one of America’s oldest industries at a time when Mr. Biden has sharpened the contrast between what rivals and allies call “Bidenomics” and a Republican plan that the president has warned is a darker version of the trickle -down economy that mostly benefits the rich.
“Their plan – MAGAnomics – is more extreme than anything America has seen,” Mr. Biden said Thursday, hours before the union voted to strike.
Mr. Biden was joined on Friday by some of the more liberal members of his party, who attacked automakers and stood by striking workers.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, sent a fundraising appeal accusing companies of refusing to “meet the demands of workers negotiating for better pay” despite of having “earned nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars in revenue over the past decade .”
Senator Sherrod Brown, an Ohio Democrat, visited striking Jeep workers at a Toledo plant that makes the popular Wrangler sport-utility vehicle and declared that “Ohioans stand in solidarity with autoworkers around of our state as they ask the Big Three automakers to respect the work they do. to make these companies successful.”
How Mr. Biden views the strike and its consequences could have a major impact on his re-election hopes. In a CNN poll earlier this month, only 39 percent of people approved of the job he is doing as president and 58 percent said his policies have made economic conditions in the United States worse, not more. great
The fact that the strike is centered in Michigan is also critical. Mr. Biden won the state against Mr. Trump in 2020 with just over 50 percent of the vote. Without the state’s 16 electoral votes, Mr. Biden would not have defeated his rival.
Unlike previous strikes involving train workers or air traffic controllers, Mr. Biden has no special legal authority to intervene. However, he wasn’t exactly an observer either.
Before the strike vote, Mr. Biden called Shawn Fain, the president of the UAW, as well as top executives of the car companies. Aides said the president told the parties to make sure the workers get a fair contract and he urged both sides to stay at the negotiating table.
Economists say a long strike, if it goes on for weeks or even months, could happen a blow to the American economyespecially in the middle of the country.
However, the president has been unwavering on policies toward both unions and the environment. In a Labor Day speech in Philadelphia, Mr. Biden revised his vision of what he called a “transition to an electric vehicle future made in America” — which he said would protect jobs — and his strong convictions in unions.
“You know, there are a lot of politicians in this country who don’t know how to say the word ‘union,'” he said. “They talk about labor, but they don’t say ‘union.’ It’s ‘union.’ I’m one of the — I’m proud to say ‘union.’ I am proud to be the most pro-union president.”