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President Biden traveled to Michigan on Tuesday to join United Auto Workers members on the picket line, showing solidarity with the striking workers in a key battleground state. The high-profile presidential visit comes just one day before former President Donald Trump is also scheduled to speak in Michigan, aiming to drive a wedge between the union leadership and rank-and-file members.
The hastily arranged trip enables Biden to demonstrate backing for the UAW laborers in their fight for higher wages and better benefits. Biden has proclaimed himself “the most pro-union president in American history,” often touting his own working-class roots. With Michigan a vital swing state Biden narrowly won in 2020, his public stand with the autoworkers signals an effort to retain union support heading into the 2024 presidential race.
“Today, I’ll go to Michigan to join the picket line and stand in solidarity with the men and women of UAW as they fight for a fair share of the value they helped create,” Biden said in a statement last Friday.
The high-stakes labor dispute originally involved targeted strikes at three key plants in Michigan, Missouri and Ohio. But on Friday, UAW President Shawn Fain announced expanded walkouts encompassing all Stellantis and General Motors parts and distribution facilities, impacting nine regions and 20 states. Fain credited Ford with showing seriousness in reaching an agreement, so autoworkers spared the company from the expanded strikes.
In total, 38 Ford, GM and Stellantis plants have now idled due to the UAW strikes involving a total of 48,000 workers. Workers seek higher pay, better health benefits and increased job security, while automakers aim to control labor costs amid economic uncertainty.
“The autoworkers are being sold down the river by their leadership,” Trump told NBC News in an interview on Sunday. “Their leadership should endorse Trump.”
Fain has firmly rejected Trump’s overtures to rank-and-file members, casting Trump as an enemy of the union. “Every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers,” Fain told the Detroit News.
Record Profits Versus Stagnant Wages Fuel Standoff
The labor standoff stems from autoworker frustrations that they have not shared fairly in the record profits posted by Ford, GM and Stellantis in recent years.
“They have not been shared fairly, in my view, with the workers,” Biden said earlier this month when the initial strikes began.
Ford earned $17.9 billion in net income last year, while GM saw profits soar to $14.3 billion. Stellantis, formed last year in a merger between Fiat Chrysler and France’s PSA Group, reported a massive $15.6 billion profit in 2021.
Yet union workers have faced caps on profit-sharing payouts along with rising health insurance costs. Base wages for veteran full-time production workers have stood at $32 an hour since September 2019. The UAW seeks to narrow the gap between veteran workers and new hires who start around $18 per hour.
“We are fighting for fair wages, health care and job security,” said Florian Lupes, a striking worker at a Stellantis parts plant in Indiana. “It’s not right that auto companies are making billions and we can’t get a decent wage.”
Fain has set a strike deadline of October 4 for concrete progress in negotiations before considering additional walkouts. The union is also voting on whether to authorize a complete work stoppage.
Autoworkers Face Mounting Pressures Amid Soaring Inflation
For autoworkers, securing higher wages carries added urgency amid consumer prices rising over 8% this past year. Stagnant wages amid 40-year high inflation has squeezed working families.
“With the high cost of living today, we need a wage increase to keep up,” said Roy Booth, an assembly line worker at GM’s Orion plant in Michigan now on strike.
Hourly employees also seek to protect health care benefits that currently include modest premiums, low out-of-pocket costs and comprehensive coverage.
With the auto industry facing an economic slowdown and parts shortages, automakers aim to control labor expenses going forward. But workers believe the companies can afford to share profits more after they supported the industry during downturns.
Biden Walks Fine Line With Key Constituencies
President Biden faces a delicate balancing act showing solidarity with the UAW while also hoping the auto industry thrives, given its central role in the economy. Though GM and Ford plan to invest $35 billion and $20 billion respectively in EV production, the UAW wants to ensure its members remain competitive for jobs in the high-tech EV era.
By joining autoworkers on the picket line, Biden aligns himself squarely on the side of unions, a key constituency for Democrats. In 2020, Biden earned the UAW’s endorsement and support in Michigan where he narrowly defeated Trump.
Trump hopes to peel off rank-and-file UAW support from union leadership in the state that was critical to his 2016 victory. But Fain remains resolute despite Trump’s overtures.
“This battle is not about the president,” Fain told MSNBC this week. “It’s about the workers standing up for economic and social justice and getting their fair share.”
As the White House touts the creation of 600,000 manufacturing jobs under Biden, a prolonged strike in a foundational U.S. industry threatens to slow this momentum. But Biden’s very public show of solidarity aims to energize union workers vital to Democrats’ prospects this November.
What Happens Next Will Shape the Auto Industry’s Future
With no quick resolutions in sight, the stakes remain high for both sides. Auto workers are determined to gain a fairer share after contributing to banner profits. But automakers need to curtail costs as vehicles become more tech-heavy and competition intensifies.
Beyond the picket lines, the ultimate agreements will influence wages, benefits and job security for current and future autoworkers. The terms will also impact automakers’ labor costs and ability to invest in new green technologies vital to the future.
After decades of declining union membership, the UAW battles also represent a test of organized labor’s remaining clout in the face of powerful corporations. As picketers chant for workers’ dignity, the protests aim to inspire pushback against widening economic inequality across America.
In Michigan, Biden will seek to rally sentiments behind workers fighting for higher pay in good jobs with strong benefits and safe workplaces. But Trump hopes to redirect frustrations toward union leaders accused of poor negotiating tactics. Working families will live with consequences of the high-stakes showdown for years to come.
For the latest strike developments and analysis of impacts on the auto industry, stay tuned for updates right here. Feel free to share your perspective in the comments below.