But the United Auto Workers strike, organized by a group that has criticized Biden in the past, presents more challenges than opportunities for the president as Democrats struggle with blue-collar voters.
The longer the UAW strike lasts against the so-called Big Three Detroit-based automaker companies, General Motors, the Ford Motor Company, and Stellantis, the greater its economic and political consequences, according to the Center for American Progress Action Fund’s American Worker Project senior adviser David Madland.
“The auto bailout, where auto workers took a major financial haircut in 2007, -8, and -9 to save the auto companies, is a key piece underlying this,” Madland told the Washington Examiner. “The workers feel that they did their share to help the companies stay afloat and then have helped them turn around to have record profits. Now that they don’t feel that their offers are anywhere near what they deserve.”
The UAW is seeking, among other demands, a 40% pay raise over the course of a four-year contract, the return of cost-of-living increases and pension plans, restrictions on the reliance on part-time autoworkers and forced overtime, and a four-day workweek. But their concerns regarding job security have also been exacerbated by Biden’s climate and energy policies, particularly the importance he has placed on electric vehicles.
“The switch to electric vehicles is a long-run concern for autoworkers,” Madland said. “They want to ensure that they can still have the good kinds of jobs that they and their predecessors have fought for in this new and emerging industry.”
With Republicans, including 2024 GOP primary front-runner former President Donald Trump, citing Biden’s electric vehicle positions, environmental groups, such as Evergreen, have publicly supported the UAW, accusing the Big Three of “cynically” using green stances to “lower wages and labor standards” when “economic and climate justice can and must go hand in hand.” Trump has appealed to the UAW for their endorsement.
“We know that we cannot sustain the clean energy transition without a strong workforce, and efforts to undermine autoworkers threaten the success of our collective movement,” Evergreen said.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has excoriated Biden for being responsible for encouraging the UAW strike, which started Friday morning with 12,700 autoworkers at three factories in Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri. The UAW has about 150,000 members, many of whom live in the battleground state of Michigan, which Trump won in 2016 by 11,000 votes before losing it in 2020 by 155,000 votes.
“The UAW strike and indeed the ‘summer of strikes’ is the natural result of the Biden administration’s ‘whole of government’ approach to promoting unionization at all costs,” Chamber President Suzanne Clark said.
For Madland, Biden could enhance his public and private participation in the UAW negotiations after the president announced Friday he is sending acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and senior adviser Gene Sterling to Detroit to assist with the talks.
“Neither side is going to get everything they want, but the hope is that both sides give a little and you lead to a compromise that ends up working for both parties,” Madland said. “This is quite important for him because the president has made clear that he wants to be the most pro-union president ever, and I think part of his legacy will be about how this strike is resolved.”
Biden appeared to side with the UAW during an address scheduled the same week he emphasized Bidenomics and the Labor Department reported annualized consumer prices rose for the second consecutive month, increasing by 3.7% in August compared to a year ago. During the speech, the president, who is spending the weekend in Delaware, contended that “record corporate profits” should “mean record contracts.” GM CEO Mary Barra, for example, earned almost $29 million in 2022.
“Auto companies have seen record profits, including the last few years, because of the extraordinary skill and sacrifices of the UAW workers,” Biden said Friday. “But those record profits have not been shared fairly, in my view, with those workers.”
“Just as we’re building an economy of the future, we need labor agreements for the future,” he added. “The bottom line is that autoworkers helped create America’s middle class. They deserve a contract that sustains them and the middle class.”
The UAW strike is the first simultaneous union action against the Big Three. It is estimated the strike could cost more than $5 billion in 10 days if it escalates into a complete walkout. Negotiations are poised to resume on Saturday.