Biden making unprecedented move by joining UAW picket line

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President Joe Biden’s decision to stand alongside United Auto Workers pickets on Tuesday on the 12th day of their strike against major carmakers underscores support of labor unions that appears to be unparalleled in presidential history.

UAW President Shawn Fain was the first to greet Biden after he arrived in Michigan on Air Force One, and he joined him in the presidential limousine for a ride to the picket line.

Labor historians say they cannot recall an instance when a sitting president has joined an ongoing strike, even during the tenures of the more ardent pro-union presidents such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Theodore Roosevelt invited labor leaders alongside mine operators to the White House amid a historic coal strike in 1902, a decision that was seen at the time as a rare embrace of unions as Roosevelt tried to resolve the dispute.

Biden will be arriving one day before former President Donald Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican nomination, goes to Detroit to hold his own event in an attempt to woo auto workers even though union leaders say he’s no ally.

Lawmakers often appear at strikes to show solidarity with unions, and Biden joined picket lines with casino workers in Las Vegas and auto workers in Kansas City while seeking the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

But sitting presidents, who have to balance the rights of workers with disruptions to the economy, supply chains and other facets of everyday life, have long wanted to stay out of the strike fray — until Biden.

“This is absolutely unprecedented. No president has ever walked a picket line before,” said Erik Loomis, a professor at the University of Rhode Island and an expert on U.S. labor history. Presidents historically “avoided direct participation in strikes. They saw themselves more as mediators. They did not see it as their place to directly intervene in a strike or in labor action.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to Michigan that “Biden is fighting to ensure that the cars of the future will be built in America by unionized American workers in good-paying jobs, instead of being built in China.”

Biden’s trip to join a picket line in the suburbs of Detroit is the most significant demonstration of his pro-union bona fides, a record that includes vocal support for unionization efforts at Amazon.com facilities and executive actions that promoted worker organizing. He also earned a joint endorsement of major unions earlier this year and has avoided southern California for high-dollar fundraisers amid the writers’ and actors’ strikes in Hollywood.

During the ongoing UAW strike, Biden has argued that the auto companies have not gone far enough, although White House officials have repeatedly declined to say whether the president endorses specific UAW demands such as a 40% hike in wages and full-time pay for a 32-hour work week.

“I think the UAW gave up an incredible amount back when the automobile industry was going under. They gave everything from their pensions on, and they saved the automobile industry,” Biden said Monday from the White House. He said workers should benefit from carmakers’ riches “now that the industry is roaring back.”

Biden and other Democrats are more aggressively touting the president’s pro-labor credentials at a time when Trump is trying to make inroads in critical swing states where unions remain influential, including Michigan and Pennsylvania. Biden is leaning on his union support at a time when labor enjoys broad support from the public, with 67% of Americans approving of labor unions in an August Gallup poll.

The United Farm Workers announced their endorsement of Biden on Tuesday, calling him “an authentic champion for workers and their families, regardless of their race or national origin.” Biden’s campaign manager, Julie Chavez Rodriguez, is the granddaughter of Cesar Chavez, the union’s co-founder.

The UAW has not endorsed Biden. Asked about that after landing in Michigan, Biden told reporters that “I’m not worried about that.”

Trump is skipping the second Republican primary debate on Wednesday and will meet with striking autoworkers in Michigan, seeking to capitalize on discontent over the state of the economy and anger over the Biden administration’s push for more electric vehicles — a key component of its clean-energy agenda.

“If it wasn’t for President Trump, Joe Biden would be giving autoworkers the East Palestine treatment and saying that his schedule was too busy,” said Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller, referring to the small Ohio town that is still grappling with the aftermath of a February train derailment. Biden said he would visit the community but so far has not.

White House officials dismissed the notion that Trump forced their hand and noted that Biden was headed to Michigan at the request of UAW President Shawn Fain, who last week invited the sitting president to join the strikers.

“He is pro-UAW, he is pro-workers, that is this president,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday. “He stands by union workers, and he is going to stand with the men and women of the UAW.”

Yet the UAW strike, which expanded into 20 states last week, remains a dilemma for the Biden administration since a part of the workers’ grievances include concerns about a broader transition to electric vehicles. The shift away from gas-powered vehicles has worried some autoworkers because electric versions require fewer people to manufacture and there is no guarantee that factories that produce them will be unionized.

Carolyn Nippa, who was walking the picket line Monday at the GM parts warehouse in Van Buren Township, Michigan, was ambivalent about the president’s advocacy for electric vehicles, even as she said Biden was a better president than Trump for workers. She said it was “great that we have a president who wants to support local unions and the working class.”

“I know it’s the future. It’s the future of the car industry,” Nippa said of electric vehicles. “I’m hoping it doesn’t affect our jobs.”

Still, other pickets remained more skeptical about Biden’s visit Tuesday.

Dave Ellis, who stocks parts at the distribution center, said he’s happy Biden wants to show people he’s behind the middle class. But he said the visit is just about getting more votes.

“I don’t necessarily believe that it’s really about us,” said Ellis, who argued that Trump would be a better president for the middle class than Biden because Trump is a businessman.

The Biden administration has no formal role in the negotiations, and the White House pulled back a decision from the president earlier this month to send two key deputies to Michigan after determining it would be more productive for the advisers, Gene Sperling and acting Labor Secretary Julie Su, to monitor talks from Washington.

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23 thoughts on “Biden making unprecedented move by joining UAW picket line

  1. The same Joe Biden, who supported and signed the Inflation Reduction Act that literally guaranteed a 30% reduction in UAW workers by pushing the green EV agenda!

    1. Steve R.

      Exactly right. The legislation will reduce the need for UAW production.
      Not to mention that the Big Three Auto makers will be paying much more
      per hour for wages and benefits than the non union manufacturers. This will only strengthen the non union car makers competitive edge.

      There’s a reason why the auto manufacturing plants and suppliers have located
      in the Right To Work States, ( probably over 95 %).

      There’s also a reason why not one of the non-union auto makers have unionized.

    2. Let me guess, Automakers have a loophole to get out from under the unions if they build new plants and would have done it long ago if the unions hadn’t stopped them. So investing in EV technology to create the manufacturing in the US is Biden’s union busting move?

      I can see the unintended consequences.

    1. Kevin P.

      + 1

      I read an article that 53% of the people support the strikers. I’m guessing
      the bulk of those supporting the strikers are too young to know about the
      UAW overreach that devasted entire cities like Anderson, Muncie, Marion,
      Richmond, Gary, and so many others.

    2. Keith B. ~ A new Gallup poll says 75-percent of Americans support the UAW’s strike and its demands. That accounts for a lot more people than those who are “two young” to think otherwise. And by the way, it was Japanese imports that caught American automakers off guard – which resulted in the closures of plants in the Indiana cities you cite.

    3. Brent B.

      I’ll bet the bulk of those that support the strikers are young people.
      Probably 40 and under. They didn’t live through the 20 some thousand UAW jobs that left Anderson, or the 20 sone thousand that left Muncie, and tens of thousands that left other cities throughout Indiana and other Industrial Midwest
      States.
      Union over reach and greed killed those jobs. Democrats protected them because they are the their largest donnars

      Thank your Democrats for protecting inefficiency in exchange for campaign donations.

      Yes, the Japanese made huge inroads into the U.S.car market particularly during the second oil embargo in the late 70’s. I remember those years very well.
      I also remember rediculious union work rules that hamstrung productivity
      and the rediculious benefits and legacy benefits that hurt the big three,

      The Japanese came in at the right time during the oil embargos with cars that
      were much more efficient on gas.

      Demanding a 40% increase in pay along with a 32 hour work week, along with
      the other demands is NOT financially feasible. The Big Three can NOT compete
      with the nonunion auto companies with that.

      Remember, that the unions were also the ones that pushed for the two tiered
      wage system.

    4. What makes you think the Big 3 ever supported him anyway?

      Biden did the right thing here. And the claims above regarding green jobs….hilarious.

  2. Whether one is pro-Union or not, the issue in this strike is the over-the-top demands of the UAW. In addition to a 40% pay increase, the demand for 40 hours of pay for 32 hours of work amounts to an additional 20% pay increase. On top of this 60%, increase,the union is also asking for annual cost of living increases. Finally their demands include the return of full pensions, the most expensive demand of all.

    Not that the union will ever get all of this, but if they did, the long term negative competitive impact on the Big3 would end up hurting the UAW,

  3. When it comes to who is to blame for the loss of industrial jobs in this county and auto worker jobs in particular, no one group has totally clean hands. However, some have more responsibility than others

    And let’s not forget that the dollar bill has no conscience or loyalty. And it will go where it is best served regardless of the damage to the communities it leaves behind.

    And it is abundantly clear that it is the corporations and the politicians who are beholden to them, who control where that dollar bill goes to get the highest profit. Not a good or reasonable profit on investment but the highest profit.

    While the UAW is not perfect, they have done more to create the middle class and support communities and are continuing those efforts in this current strike.

    1. First, I’m not anti union. Unions do protect workers from bad management
      and abusive managers.

      But unions also protect bad workers at the expense of productivity and proficiency.

    2. Rick S.

      Unions do protect workers from bad management and abusive managers.

      Give the unions credit where credit is due and but they must also take responsibility for their short comings. That’s only being honest.

      I worked in a truck dock environment for almost 27 years. It was a very harsh
      environment in the cold and the heat under abusive makers and conditions.
      In all that time I never once worried about what the CEO compensation.

      Last, does anyone remember who the profits belong to?? The profits belong
      to the shareholders. That is finance and economics 101.

  4. Your economics 101 is Carl Ican‘s premise theory that shareholder value return is the only purpose for a corporation to exist. Ignoring. Other investors. Being the workers whose toil produces the products at the expense of their time and risking their health . And the communities who invested in the infrastructure the corporation benefits from to make their operations possible. Before Carl Ican. There was the common good stakeholder corporation model that worked to provide a return to all of the input investors. Not just the Money financiers .
    Now when the financiers are not sated they dump the other stakeholders and leave a toxic brownfield mess for the abandoned community to deal with.

    1. When cities invested in infrastructure, they received jobs. Good paying jobs
      at that.

      The workers toil at a job that agreed to with management. The agreement is
      for X amount of labor for X amount of compensation.

      The shareholders are anyone that has a pension, 401 K, IRA or any other form
      of retirement account, or investment. It’s not just a few fat cats wallowing on
      a huge pile of money. ** It’s hundreds of millions of shareholders. The vast majority
      are middle class. **

      I worked a very physically demanding blue collar labor job for 27 years. Most
      of the time in a very demanding environment. Not one time did I ever worry about
      what the CEO was compensated or think that I was owed the profits.
      My agreement was for X amount of pay & benfits for X amount of labor.
      As it should be.

      I have no problem with the unions negotiating for fair compensation. But the
      current demands are very reminiscent of the overreach from decades ago that
      put the Big Three at a competitive disadvantage. The result was the loss of
      Hundreds of thousands of blue and white collar jobs that devastated entire
      cities.

  5. Yes Keith, there are times the Union represent “bad members”. Why because the law dictates they represent all members.

    Flash! Management hires the members of Unions. If the Union did, they would have a better screening committee.

    1. Nancy H.

      Lol….Nonsense!

      The unions play a big part in the screening process whether they want to admit
      it or not.

      Used to be you had to be related or know several people to get on at a union plant. I knew many guys that I wouldn’t have trusted to push a broom get hired
      in the UAW plants because they had connections through the UAW.

      That said, it doesn’t mean that management is off the hook either by any stretch either.

    2. I want the Big Three to be successful and the workers rewarded for their
      hard work.

      Right now the Big Three have around 50% of the domestic market. They only
      have very small market shares overseas. So the U.S. market is their bread & butter.
      How competitive do you think the Big Three will be if they consent to all the
      UAW demands.
      G.M. along would be paying $ 165. per hour in hourly pay and benefits per worker. That’s much more than the non-union plants that are paying,
      probably around $ 55 to 65 dollars per hour in wages and benefits
      per hour per employee ).

      The costs have to be passed on.

    3. Best example of this is the police….

      The union only exists to protect the bad apples it seems

  6. Of course, individual Union Representatives/hourly members and Salary workers from time to time can put in a good word to get someone hired.

    It doesn’t guarantee one and from time to time it actually may hurt a persons chances. This applies to almost every sector of our economy. Always has and always will. It’s called life.

    Also the Union as an entity, has never determined who gets hired let alone play a big part in the process.

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