Looming auto worker strike poses ‘significant complications’ for ‘Union Joe’ Biden

As the deadline approached, several White House-aligned Democrats became increasingly outspoken in blaming automakers, not union leaders, for a potential strike.

“It’s not that everyone is equally at fault here,” said Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio). “The automakers did it; workers were injured. The media is focusing on what kind of damage will this do to the economy? What about the damage done to Youngstown workers and families over the decades? »

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who said he may travel to Detroit on Friday to support striking auto workers, was one of several lawmakers who highlighted the rising levels of executive pay as proof that workers deserve to be paid more.

“Automotive workers earn significantly less than they did 15 years ago,” Sanders said. “In many cases, their salaries have not kept up with inflation and CEOs are making between $20 million and $25 million. So it’s time for workers to be treated with respect.”

Similarly, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) said he was “concerned” about the economic implications but, like Sanders and others, said the UAW’s position was “reasonable considering that the CEOs and executives of these automakers gained 40 percent.” more in the recent period and enrollment has increased by 6 percent.

Biden, who spoke on the economy Thursday afternoon in Maryland, framed his appeal to the working class in contrast to Republican proposals. But he completely avoided the topic of high-stakes negotiations.

In the immediate term, the administration has been in contact with agencies about contingency plans and has been monitoring the potential impact of any strikes on supply chains and the economy as a whole, according to the people. close to recent meetings and discussions. At the same time, administration officials have engaged in direct talks with leaders of both parties.

But the discussions, so far, have not been entirely fruitful. And within the administration, there is a feeling that no form of intervention would work at this late hour.

The administration views Fain, whom Biden met in the Oval Office earlier this summer, as a less establishment-oriented labor leader. Fain did not have particularly close ties to the White House and built his brand on his aggressive and combative character. Fain, in their view, was not someone who sought an off-ramp, nor had he come to power as a user of one.

But Fain is not seen as the only wild card in the current round of negotiations. The White House also relied on a bona fide team on labor policy and the economy — including chief adviser Gene Sperling and acting Labor Secretary Julie Su. But they’re missing the person who helped overcome the last high-profile standoffs: former Labor Secretary Marty Walsh.

It’s impossible to know whether Walsh would have been able to pull a rabbit out of the hat. But on Thursday afternoon, aides were extremely sensitive in the way they discussed the impending strike: aware not only that it would have economic consequences, but that it could also change the perception of the president as a champion of union movement.

They also feared that Biden would find himself even more embarrassed after the strike began than before. Other unions were expected to show solidarity with the UAW once the strike began, which would only add to the pressure on Biden.

While a strike now seems almost inevitable, the White House is working to prevent it from becoming a prolonged and economically painful strike, trying to get both sides to recognize the benefits of reaching an agreement as quickly as possible. . Biden, who called Fain on Labor Day and spoke with the Big Three auto CEOs before his trip last week to India and Vietnam, encouraged both sides to stay at the table, Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Jared Bernstein said Wednesday.

“And he will continue to emphasize this,” Bernstein said.

Adam Cancryn, Jennifer Haberkorn and Sam Stein contributed to this report.

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