President Joe Biden expressed his support for the demands of the United Auto Workers union, which began a limited strike against the Big Three U.S. carmakers on Friday.
“Auto companies have seen record profits, including in the last few years, because of the extraordinary skill and sacrifices of UAW workers,” Biden said in televised remarks from the White House on Friday afternoon. “Those record profits have not been shared fairly, in my view, with those workers.”
At the start of contract talks between UAW and management at General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, Biden spoke to both sides and encouraged them to stay at the negotiating table until they reach an agreement, he said. But now that the two sides have arrived at an impasse, Biden said he understands why the union decided to strike.
The parties have been bargaining “around the clock, and the companies have made some significant offers,” Biden said. “But I believe they should go further to ensure record corporate profits mean record contracts for the UAW.”
“Strong unions are critical for growing the economy and growing it from the middle out, the bottom up, not the top down,” he said. “That’s especially true as we transition to a clean energy future, which we’re in the process of doing.”
Biden’s remark that “record corporate profits mean record contracts” echoes UAW President Shawn Fain’s language almost verbatim.
In a statement Friday, Fain welcomed Biden’s support, but took issue with his framing of the problem.
“We agree with Joe Biden when he says ‘record profits mean record contracts,’” Fain said. “We don’t agree when he says negotiations have broken down. Our national elected negotiators and UAW leadership are hard at work at the bargaining table. Our members and allies are standing strong at the picket lines. Anyone who wants to stand with us can grab a sign and hold the line.”
Biden’s comments Friday are consistent with his efforts to paint himself as the “most pro-union president” in U.S. history.
Biden’s record has won him praise from organized labor and criticism from the business world. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the country’s main big-business trade group, blamed Biden on Friday for prompting the strike through his relentless advocacy for unions.
UAW’s targeted strike, currently limited to three auto plants in Michigan, Ohio and Missouri, is the first time in history that UAW has engaged in a simultaneous work stoppage at all three major U.S. automakers. If the strike expands to every production facility, 150,000 UAW members would walk off the job ― an action that would affect countless other workers at auto parts suppliers and related companies.
Some of the Big Three automakers have indeed reaped record-breaking profits in recent years. The carmakers insist that they need those funds to invest in new electric vehicle plants without passing on costs to consumers.
UAW, which is under a new, more militant set of leaders, is demanding a 40% pay increase over the course of the next four-year contract, which it says would be proportional to the increases in pay that automakers’ top executives have received in the past four years. The union’s other demands include the reinstatement of defined-benefit pensions for all workers, and a speedy phase-out of the “two-tier” pay system that entitles newer workers to lower compensation.
UAW is also anxious about the implications that the growing domestic electric vehicle and battery production industry could have on its future wages and benefits. Several U.S. automakers have partnered with non-union foreign companies on federally subsidized electric vehicle and battery projects, raising concerns that U.S. companies will use the new production plants as a way to undercut union strength across the industry.
As a result, UAW, unlike virtually every other major union, has not yet endorsed Biden’s re-election bid. And former President Donald Trump has openly campaigned for UAW members’ support in his own 2024 presidential run, on the grounds that he would slow the transition to electric vehicles.
Trump has nonetheless declined to pick a side in the UAW strike.
“I’m on the side of making our country great,” he told NBC News on Thursday.