Biden to Join UAW Strike Picket Line 09/26 06:18
President Joe Biden's decision to stand alongside United Auto Workers
pickets on Tuesday on the 12th day of their strike against major carmakers
underscores an allegiance to labor unions that appears to be unparalleled in
WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Joe Biden's decision to stand alongside United
Auto Workers pickets on Tuesday on the 12th day of their strike against major
carmakers underscores an allegiance to labor unions that appears to be
unparalleled in presidential history.
Experts in presidential and U.S. labor history say they cannot recall an
instance when a sitting president has joined an ongoing strike, even during the
tenures of the more ardent pro-union presidents such as Franklin Delano
Roosevelt and Harry Truman. Theodore Roosevelt invited labor leaders alongside
mine operators to the White House amid a historic coal strike in 1902, a
decision that was seen at the time as a rare embrace of unions as Roosevelt
tried to resolve the dispute.
Lawmakers often appear at strikes to show solidarity with unions, and during
his 2020 Democratic primary campaign, Biden and other presidential hopefuls
joined a picket line of hundreds of casino workers in Las Vegas who were
pushing for a contract with The Palms Casino Resort.
But sitting presidents, who have to balance the rights of workers with
disruptions to the economy, supply chains and other facets of everyday life,
have long wanted to stay out of the strike fray -- until Biden.
"This is absolutely unprecedented. No president has ever walked a picket
line before," said Erik Loomis, a professor at the University of Rhode Island
and an expert on U.S. labor history. Presidents historically "avoided direct
participation in strikes. They saw themselves more as mediators. They did not
see it as their place to directly intervene in a strike or in labor action."
Biden's trip to join a picket line in the suburbs of Detroit is the most
significant demonstration of his pro-union bona fides, a record that includes
vocal support for unionization efforts at Amazon.com facilities and executive
actions that promoted worker organizing. He also earned a joint endorsement of
the major unions earlier this year and has avoided southern California for
high-dollar fundraisers amid the writers' and actors' strikes in Hollywood.
During the ongoing UAW strike, Biden has argued that the auto companies have
not yet gone far enough to satisfy the union, although White House officials
have repeatedly declined to say whether the president endorses specific UAW
demands such as a 40% hike in wages and full-time pay for a 32-hour work week.
"I think the UAW gave up an incredible amount back when the automobile
industry was going under. They gave everything from their pensions on, and they
saved the automobile industry," Biden said Monday from the White House. He
stressed that the workers should benefit from the carmakers' riches "now that
the industry is roaring back."
Biden and other Democrats are more aggressively touting the president's
pro-labor credentials at a time when former President Donald Trump is trying to
chip away at union support in critical swing states where the constituency
remains influential, including Michigan and Pennsylvania. Biden is also leaning
in on his union support at a time when labor enjoys broad support from the
public, with 67% of Americans approving of labor unions in an August Gallup
Instead of participating in the second Republican primary debate on
Wednesday, Trump will head to Michigan to meet with striking autoworkers,
seeking to capitalize on discontent over the state of the economy and anger
over the Biden administration's push for more electric vehicles -- a key
component of its clean-energy agenda.
"If it wasn't for President Trump, Joe Biden would be giving autoworkers the
East Palestine treatment and saying that his schedule was too busy," said Trump
campaign adviser Jason Miller, referring to the small Ohio town that is still
grappling with the aftermath of a February train derailment. Biden said he
would visit the community but so far has not.
White House officials dismissed the notion that Trump forced their hand and
noted that Biden was headed to Michigan at the request of UAW President Shawn
Fain, who last week invited the sitting president to join the strikers.
"He is pro-UAW, he is pro-workers, that is this president," White House
press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday. "He stands by union workers,
and he is going to stand with the men and women of the UAW."
Yet the UAW strike, which expanded into 20 states last week, remains a
dilemma for the Biden administration since a part of the workers' grievances
include concerns about a broader transition to electric vehicles. The shift
away from gas-powered vehicles has worried some autoworkers because electric
versions require fewer people to manufacture and there is no guarantee that
factories that produce them will be unionized.
Carolyn Nippa, who was walking the picket line Monday at the GM parts
warehouse in Van Buren Township, Michigan, was ambivalent about the president's
advocacy for electric vehicles, even as she said Biden was a better president
than Trump for workers. She said it was "great that we have a president who
wants to support local unions and the working class."
"I know it's the future. It's the future of the car industry," Nippa said.
"I'm hoping it doesn't affect our jobs."
Still, other pickets remained more skeptical about Biden's visit Tuesday.
Dave Ellis, who stocks parts at the distribution center, said he's happy
Biden wants to show people he's behind the middle class. But he said the visit
is just about getting more votes.
"I don't necessarily believe that it's really about us," said Ellis, who
argued that Trump would be a better president for the middle class than Biden
because Trump is a businessman.
The Biden administration has no formal role in the negotiations, and the
White House pulled back a decision from the president earlier this month to
send two key deputies to Michigan after determining it would be more productive
for the advisers, Gene Sperling and acting Labor Secretary Julie Su, to monitor
talks from Washington.