” Are you crazy ? »: Democrats back away from Biden’s approach to union impasse

Fain was also expected to release remarks, obtained exclusively by POLITICO, calling on Biden to further express his support.

“We agree with Joe Biden when he says ‘record profits mean record deals.’ We do not agree when he says that the negotiations have failed. Our elected national negotiators and UAW leaders are working hard at the bargaining table. Our members and allies stand firm on the picket lines. Anyone who wants to stand with us can take a sign and hold the line,” he said as part of a broader statement.

“Businesses and the media want to use fear tactics about how we are going to destroy the economy. We are not going to destroy the economy. The truth is we are going to destroy the billionaire economy. The workers are not afraid. You know who’s afraid? The mainstream media are afraid. The White House is afraid. Businesses are afraid.”

The White House did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

Fain has made positive comments about Biden in the past, saying in August that “we appreciate President Biden’s support for strong contracts that guarantee good-paying union jobs” and praising the administration for “doing its part to reject the false choice between a good job. and green work.

But the growing discontent with the administration comes at a delicate time: as the UAW embarks on a walkout that will simultaneously affect three major U.S. automakers. It’s a move aimed at maximizing the union’s bargaining leverage, but also threatens to impose new economic challenges on Biden. The union started by striking at three factories, but said it would add more if necessary as negotiations drag on.

White House aides have spent the past few weeks in close contact with union leaders and automaker executives in hopes of negotiating a “win-win” deal and avoiding a strike, engaging both sides but taking care not to intervene. Many lawmakers viewed this position as reasonable given the economic consequences of such a shutdown. But now that the strike is underway, the union and its progressive supporters say Biden must take a more assertive role in rallying the public to the side of workers.

Some Democrats and union officials also feel that Biden’s team miscalculated the impasse and failed to understand the severity of unions’ frustration or concerns. Even the announcement this week that the Biden administration was considering aid to auto parts manufacturers outraged some in the labor community, who thought it could undermine the strike and saw it as proof that funds were still available. available to businesses, but not to workers.

In public remarks Friday, Biden said that while “no one wants a strike,” he supports collective bargaining and understands “the frustration of workers.” He stopped short of supporting the walkout and argued that the companies had made significant offers.

“I think they should go further,” Biden said. “The record corporate profits they are making should be shared by record contracts for the UAW. »

Biden also said he was sending acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and White House economic adviser Gene Sperling, who has been his point person in negotiations between the UAW and the Big Three, to Detroit to support the two parts. On Thursday, Biden spoke privately with Fain and the automaker’s CEOs.

Biden’s speech Friday was applauded by some progressives for offering some support for the auto workers’ position.

“I was incredibly proud to see him unequivocally support the demands of auto workers,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union.

Biden has staked his reelection campaign on his pro-union bona fides, a green energy revolution and the health of the U.S. economy. The strike and discontent at the UAW, a powerful union headquartered in the critical state of Michigan, threatens to undermine all of its priorities. Fain announced earlier this year that the union was reluctant to support Biden, whose administration he criticized for providing billions in clean energy subsidies without demanding higher wages and more protections for workers.

White House officials have made it a priority to build relationships with Fain, a less establishment-oriented labor leader who took power after ousting his incumbent president earlier this year, promising he would be a more aggressive negotiator. And Fain made clear that former President Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s favorite to take on Biden, had no chance of winning UAW support.

But sometimes, some Democrats and labor leaders said, the two sides don’t operate on the same page.

As an example, they noted that earlier this month, Biden publicly predicted there would be no strike.

“I’m not worried about a strike,” Biden said before a speech in Philadelphia celebrating Labor Day. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

Fain, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and others were marching in a Labor Day parade in Detroit when they learned of Biden’s comment. Dingell would later tell Fain that she called longtime Biden adviser Steve Ricchetti and yelled at him over the comment, according to a person familiar with the discussion and granted anonymity to discuss details . ” Are you crazy ? Dingell said, according to the person.

Biden’s comments also angered some local labor officials. Garry Quirk, president of UAW Local 685 in Kokomo, Indiana, who rose through the local union ranks with Fain in his hometown, said he was also frustrated by Biden’s Labor Day prediction . “When I heard that, I wanted to know where he heard it from,” Quirk said Friday, wondering if it came from the Big Three.

The past few weeks have ultimately placed the president in a relatively unfamiliar situation: trying to find a solution to social conflicts rather than fully embracing his leaders. A Biden ally recalled his efforts as vice president to help save Stellantis and then Chrysler plants in Indiana in 2008. “This union hall would be an ice rink right now without Joe Biden,” said a person involved in this matter. effort, was granted anonymity to speak freely about the situation.

And others blamed Biden aides, not Biden himself, for the current fallout: “The president gets it. Other people around him don’t,” said a union leader.

But some progressives are still beginning to gradually ramp up pressure on Biden to take a tougher stance.

Without naming the president, the senator. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) released a statement hours before Biden planned to make remarks on contract negotiations.

“It’s time to decide which side you’re on,” he said. “Are you on the side of the big three CEOs who made a combined $74 million last year and are now claiming… they can’t afford to pay their employees? Or are you on the side of the UAW workers who bust their asses every day, the people who build the American cars and trucks that we Pennsylvanians drive?

Other Democrats, meanwhile, are aligning more quickly with the union. Leader of the parliamentary minority Hakeem Jeffries and minority whip Catherine Clark will be in Michigan this weekend and plans to visit the picket lines with workers. A trip to the state was already planned when the workers requested that they both be on the front lines of the fight, according to several people familiar with the matter. Jeffries was in contact with the UAW for weeks before the strike.

But White House allies downplayed the possibility that the strike, along with pressure from fellow Democrats, would lead to a major shift in Biden’s position. They warned that the president is bound to disappoint the UAW if he expects Biden to join the picket lines.

“How would that help?” What is the hypothesis that this would increase the likelihood of reaching an agreement? said Seth Harris, Biden’s former deputy labor aide and deputy director of his National Economic Council. “The president must be the president. He must govern and solve problems. Members of Congress don’t have this problem: they have the freedom to say whatever they want. »

Harris added that Biden sees his “pro-union” role as creating broader conditions that give workers the tools to demand better wages without fear of being undermined by the government. As for Fain’s dissatisfaction with the White House, he added: “Of course he feels that.” Is it surprising that a guy in a tough situation wants people to support him?

Jennifer Haberkorn and Eugene Daniels contributed to this report.


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