Courtesy of potus/Instagram
President Joe Biden traveled to Michigan on Tuesday to join United Auto Workers union members on the picket line as their strike continues against Detroit’s “Big Three” automakers, General Motors, Ford and Stellantis.
“Today, I’m in Wayne County, Michigan to join UAW members on the picket line,” Biden posted Tuesday on X, formerly Twitter. “All workers deserve to share in the value they helped create.”
Experts say it is likely the first time a sitting U.S. president has walked a picket line with striking workers, though presidential candidates and lawmakers have done so.
Biden, the self-described “most pro-union president,” on Tuesday told UAW members that “the fact of the matter is that you guys, UAW, you guys saved the automobile industry” in the years surrounding the 2008 financial crisis.
“Folks, you’ve heard me say many times, Wall Street didn’t build this country, the middle class built this country, and unions built the middle class. That’s a fact, so let’s keep going. You deserve what you’ve earned, and you’ve earned a hell of a lot more than you’re getting paid,” Biden said.
The UAW expanded its “stand up” strike on Friday, with workers at 38 General Motors and Stellantis parts distribution centers in 20 states walking off the job. Around 5,600 workers joined the 13,000 members who initiated the strike the week before. The union represents nearly 150,000 workers at the Big Three.
The strike strategy involves members at targeted auto plants striking suddenly, while other members continue working under expired contracts. Members at other plants could be called to strike at a moment’s notice, and in the meantime are holding the line by refusing to work voluntary overtime, slowing production.
Ford managed to avoid further strikes on Friday because the company has made “some real progress” in recent negotiations, UAW President Shawn Fain said.
“We still have serious issues to work through, but we do want to recognize that Ford is showing that they are serious about reaching a deal,” Fain said.
On Monday, however, Ford announced it was pausing construction on a $3.5 billion electric vehicle battery plant in Marshall, about 100 miles west of Detroit.
“This is a shameful, barely veiled threat by Ford to cut jobs,” Fain said in a statement. “Closing 65 plants over the last 20 years wasn’t enough for the Big Three, now they want to threaten us with closing plants that aren’t even open yet. We are simply asking for a just transition to electric vehicles and Ford is instead doubling down on their race to the bottom.”
UAW is demanding 40% wage increases, more paid time off, and increased retiree pay, along with the restoration of benefits the workers once had, including defined benefit pensions, retiree medical benefits and cost of living adjustments. The union also wants to protect members’ jobs in the transition to electric vehicles.
The union is also demanding the end of lower-paid employment tiers, a concession the Teamsters recently won in their new contract with UPS, in a deal that was reached under the threat of a strike. UAW is also seeking the right to strike over plant closures, and the “working family protection program,” which would have automakers pay workers to do community service work if their company leaves town.
According to UAW, GM, Ford and Stellantis made a combined $21 billion in profits in the first six months of 2023, after raking in $250 billion in North American profits over the last decade. Their CEOs saw average pay increases of 40% in the last four years, according to the union, while members’ wages only rose about 6%, with their real wages falling due to inflation.
TMX contributed to this article.
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