Amid ongoing negotiations between striking auto workers and Detroit’s Big Three automakers, President Joe Biden made an appearance on the picket line in Belleville on Tuesday.
Addressing protesters from UAW Local 174 at the Willow Run Redistribution Center in metro Detroit, Biden said unions “saved the auto industry” during a recession and helped to establishment of the American middle class.
“Wall Street did not build the country; the middle class built the country,” Biden said. “And unions built the middle class.”
Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, the three manufacturers affected by the UAW employee strike, failed to reach a contract agreement with the UAW by the original September 15 deadline. Among other demands, UAW members hope to secure a new contract with double-digit wage increases and elimination of work levels.
Workers at the Ford Michigan assembly plant in Wayne, the Stellantis Toledo assembly complex in Ohio, and General Motors’ Wentzville assembly plant in Missouri were the first called to strike, and have since were joined by 38 other Stellantis and GM auto parts factories who were called to strike after an agreement was not reached on Friday.
Biden’s visit, believed to be the first time in modern history that a sitting president has participated in an active strike, comes after he called on the union and manufacturers to “forge a fair deal” before the first deadline .
“I’ve been on a lot of UAW picket lines when I was a senator — going back to 1973 — but, I tell you what, this is the first time I’ve done it as president,” Biden said to workers.
Biden was joined by UAW President Shawn Fain, who invited the Democratic president and addressed the crowd after Biden’s remarks.
“And so, today, I just want to take a moment to stand with all of you, with our president and say thank you. Thank you, Mr. President, for coming,” Fain said. “Thank you for coming to support us in this defining moment for our generation.”
Fain announced last week that more factories staffed by the UAW would continue to be called upon to join the strike if the demands are not met. He said automakers’ record profits require a commensurate increase in workers’ wages and benefits.
“CEOs think the future is theirs,” Fain said. “Today belongs to the auto workers in the working class.”
“You deserve what you’ve earned,” Biden said, “and you’ve earned way more than you’re getting now.”
Other labor leaders have spoken out in support of Biden’s visit, including AFL-CIO national president Liz Shuler, who said in a statement that Biden was “the most pro-union president in the history “.
“Workers know that (Biden) stands with us every day and understands that UAW members’ fight for a fair contract is deeply connected to the fight for the soul of our country,” Shuler said. “Together, we are organized to fight against corporate CEOs who have rigged the system against workers for far too long.”
Schuler is expected to visit a Michigan picket line on Wednesday.
Just hours before Biden landed in Detroit, he received key support for his 2024 re-election campaign from the United Farm Workers (UFW), which praised his labor record, since the aid provided to agricultural workers in the face of COVID-19 until the start of the work improvement process. conditions for agricultural workers.
Republican 2024 campaign candidate and presumptive Biden opponent, former President Donald Trump, said in a statement that the visit to the picket line was “nothing more than a public relations stunt” intended to distract Americans from “disastrous Bidenomics”.
“The fact is, President Trump will be the nominee and will beat Biden because he is the only person capable of boosting the economy, securing our border, and protecting our communities,” the statement said.
Trump is expected to make his own visit to Michigan on Wednesday, skipping the second GOP presidential debate to rally at a non-union auto parts manufacturing plant in Macomb County. Biden’s campaign and Fain himself spoke out against Trump’s appearance, after Trump criticized Fain for “not doing a good job” representing UAW workers.
“Every fiber of our union is invested in fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of working people,” UAW President Shawn Fain said in an earlier statement..
Although the UAW has yet to endorse a 2024 presidential candidate, Michigan’s importance as a battleground state and heart of the auto industry gives the strike immense political significance for candidates on both sides of the aisle.
Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, who was unable to join Biden, said in a statement that his visit was “historic” and represented a remarkable commitment to the American workforce.
“The president is committed to strengthening our workforce and economy by bringing jobs back from abroad, reversing the trends of the previous administration that lost jobs,” Whitmer said. “Since taking office, we have announced the creation of 36,000 jobs in the auto sector thanks to President Biden’s investments, proving that it is possible to support workers, while reaching economic development agreements without precedent that will guarantee jobs and investment for decades.”
Biden was joined on his trip to Michigan by Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and National Economic Council Director Lael Brainard and was greeted at Detroit’s Wayne Metropolitan Airport by Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist and Representatives Americans Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor), Rashida. Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Shri Thanedar (D-Detroit).
A reporter asked Biden if UAW workers deserved the 40% raise they demanded during negotiations, to which he responded: “Yes! Yes, I think they should be able to negotiate for that.
In his previous remarks, Biden referenced the collapse of the domestic auto industry in the early 2000s and that “the fact is, you guys, the UAW, saved the auto industry by 2008 and before. You have made a lot of sacrifices. You have given up a lot.
“And businesses were struggling,” he said. “But now they are doing incredibly well. And guess what? You should also do incredibly well. It’s a simple proposition.
Fain said he knew Biden would “do right by the working class.”
“This industry is our creation,” Fain said. “When we remember our work, we can undo it.”
Originally published by Michigan Advance. It is republished with permission.
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