Biden supports 40% UAW wage increase in Michigan strike trip

BELLEVILLE, Mich., Sept. 26 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden joined striking autoworkers in Michigan on Tuesday in a sit-in, supporting their call for a 40% pay raise and telling them it was “much more” than what they were getting. “Entitled to.

Biden’s appearance, the first visit by a US president to striking workers in modern history, comes a day before Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump is scheduled to speak to auto workers in Michigan. The rare back-to-back events highlight the importance of union support in the 2024 presidential election, even though unions represent a small share of American workers.

Biden, a Democrat, traveled to a Belleville, Michigan, parts distribution center owned by General Motors (GM.N.), and joined dozens of picketers outside. “Companies were in trouble, now they’re doing incredibly well. And guess what? You should be doing incredibly well, too,” Biden said through the bullhorn. “stick with it.”

He was referring to the government bailout package for US automakers in 2009 that also included wage cuts. “You deserve what you have earned. And you have earned more than what you ever paid for,” he said.

Asked if he supported the 40% raise sought by the unions, Biden said simply, “Yes.”

Flanked by Secret Service agents, Biden shook fists and took selfies with the crowd after speaking as John Mellencamp’s song “Small Town” played in the background.

Trump will address hundreds of workers at an auto supplier’s gathering in a Detroit suburb on Wednesday. According to an AFL-CIO spokesperson, the supplier, Drake Enterprises, is a non-union manufacturer. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Republicans believe Biden’s effort to electrify America’s vehicle fleet by offering billions of dollars in tax breaks to EV manufacturing is unpopular among auto workers.

In a statement Tuesday, Trump accused Biden of “stabbing autoworkers in the back.” Biden’s EV mandate, he said, would “destroy” the U.S. auto industry and deprive “thousands of autoworkers of their jobs.”

UAW President Shawn Fenn welcomed Biden at the airport and handed the president a black UAW baseball cap. He also joined Biden at the protest site.

Calling Biden’s visit a “historic moment in time,” Fenn accused CEOs of taking profits and leaving workers to “fight over garbage.” “Thank you, Mr. President, for coming to stand with us,” Fenn said. “We know the president will do the right thing for the working class.”

The UAW also encouraged non-UAW workers to join local picket lines in support of the “historic” presidential visit. A source said the union is not involved in Trump’s visit and Fenn has no plans to attend the event.

election forecast

To date, the UAW has refused to endorse any 2024 presidential candidate, making it the only major union not to endorse Biden. Both candidates are expected to sharpen their 2024 campaign messages in Michigan. Asked what the UAW would have to do to support Biden, the president said he wasn’t worried about that.

“We’re a long way from a general election, but it certainly feels like a general election,” said Dave Urban, a Republican strategist who previously worked for Trump.

UAW workers launched targeted strikes this month against GM, Ford (FN) and Chrysler parent company Stellantis (STLAM.MI), demanding increased CEO pay, shorter work weeks and job protections as the industry Moving towards electric vehicles.

The White House is discussing ways to mitigate any economic impact from a complete walkout.

Both the Detroit Three and the UAW have a lot at stake in federal policy decisions.

Automakers are counting on Washington for billions in subsidies for electric-vehicle production and talks with the Biden administration on future emissions rules that would require a shift to EVs, the industry believes That it would be too fast and too expensive. Meanwhile, unions worry that the transition to EVs will mean the loss of jobs because those vehicles require fewer parts in production.

Only 10.1% of American workers were union members in 2022, but they have wielded political influence because states where they are strong often vote Democratic to Republican, and their grassroots networks count on the working-class vote. Make a powerful impact.

Rust belt in balance?

The auto industry and its labor movement are deeply tied to the politics and elections of Michigan and other Midwestern US states.

In 2016, Trump earned a level of support from union members that no Republican had reached since Ronald Reagan, helping him capture key states such as Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin.

Biden bounced back with unions in 2020, with a nearly 16-percentage-point gain as he reclaimed the so-called Rust Belt states that were hurt by decades of job losses as companies sought low-cost, often non-profits. Adopted union locations. He won Michigan in 2020 by about 154,000 votes.

In Michigan, Trump will criticize Biden’s economic policies and incentives promoting EVs and say he will do a better job protecting blue-collar workers if elected to a second term, Trump adviser Jason Miller said. .

Labor experts said Trump is counting on driving a wedge between union members and their leaders, who criticized the former president’s labor policies during his tenure.

Democratic strategist Karen Finney said it was important for Biden to travel to Michigan to ensure Trump does not rewrite history.

“Biden is saying we’re not going to let you just go out there and lie to people and try to change the conversation,” Finney said.

Historians said Biden’s Michigan visit represents the most support given to striking workers by a sitting president since Theodore Roosevelt invited striking coal workers to the White House in 1902.

Reporting by Jeff Mason in Belleville, Michigan, and Nandita Bose in Washington, Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut, Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington, Editing by Heather Timmons, Nick Zieminski and Matthew Lewis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Jeff Mason is the White House correspondent for Reuters. He has covered the presidencies of Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden, and the presidential campaigns of Biden, Trump, Obama, Hillary Clinton, and John McCain. He served as president of the White House Correspondents’ Association in 2016–2017, and led the press corps in advocating for press freedom in the early days of the Trump administration. His and WHCA’s work was recognized with Deutsche Welle’s “Freedom of Speech Award”. Jeff has asked sharp questions of domestic and foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. He is the winner of the WHCA’s “Excellence in Presidential News Coverage Under Deadline Pressure” award and co-winner of the Association for Business Journalists’ “Breaking News” award. Jeff started his career as a business reporter in Frankfurt, Germany before getting posted. in Brussels, Belgium, where he covered the European Union. Jeff appears regularly on television and radio and teaches political journalism at Georgetown University. He is a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and a former Fulbright Scholar.

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