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Biden joins striking auto workers on Detroit picket line

September 26, 2023

In a rare move for a US president, Joe Biden joined striking workers on a picket line, and supported their demands for pay increases.

US President Joe Biden, wearing a black UAW cap, yells into a megaphone with an American flag on it, while United Auto Workers hold placards in the background
Biden said auto workers deserve 'a hell of a lot more' than the 40% pay raise they are asking forImage: Evan Vucci/AP Photo/picture alliance

US President Joe Biden flew to Detroit, Michigan, Tuesday where he joined members of the striking United Auto Workers' (UAW) union on the picket line.

His visit is thought to have been the first time a US president has ever joined striking workers.

Biden said Detroit's "Big Three" automakers — GM, Ford and Stellantis (owners of Chrysler) — should give workers the pay raise they are demanding, saying they deserve, "a lot more."

Asked if UAW members deserved a 40% raise, Biden said: "Yes. I think they should be able to bargain for that."

It is the 12th day of the strike and Biden has been especially vocal in his support for the UAW cause. 

'No deal, no wheels," Biden encourages striking workers

Biden said workers deserved to share in the record profits being hauled in by the Big Three, "now that the industry is roaring back."

He was enthusiastic in his interaction with workers, exchanging fist bumps and telling them, "stick with it."

"You deserve the significant raise you need," Biden told workers as he stepped atop a makeshift podium wearing a UAW cap and holding a megaphone with an American flag on it. 

"Companies were in trouble," he said, "now they're doing incredibly well. And guess what? You should be doing incredibly well, too."

Retraining workers in e-mobility

UAW President Shawn Fain accompanied Biden to the event, which took place at a GM parts distribution facility in Belleville, west of Detroit.

Fain, who compared CEOs to workers, said, "They make decisions, we make the product." 

Welcoming Biden, Fain described the situation as "generation-defining" and said workers were in a "kind of war" against "corporate greed."

Speaking at the White House before traveling to Detroit, Biden said: "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."

Not just about wages, but votes, too

UAW workers began their walkout with targeted strikes nearly two weeks ago. Their demands include raises that mirror CEO pay raises, shorter work weeks and job security in the face of electric vehicle production.

Biden's appearance in Michigan, a hotly-contested swing state, comes just one day before his likely challenger in next year's presidential election, Donald Trump, travels to the state in an attempt to win the votes of disgruntled workers.

Billionaire Trump has sold himself as a friend of the working man and sought to paint Biden as their enemy, saying the president "stabbed" auto workers in the back with his push for electric vehicle manufacturing. Trump claimed Biden's Green New Deal would "annihilate" the industry and the jobs it supplies.

Trump, who made inroads with unions in 2016 and lost Michigan to Biden by 154,000 votes in 2020, will speak at a non-union parts manufacturer northeast of Detroit Wednesday evening rather than debating Republican challengers for his party's nomination. 

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Air Force One Tuesday, "Biden is fighting to ensure that the cars of the future will be built in America by unionized American workers in good-paying jobs, instead of being built in China."

UAW President Fain told strikers Tuesday, "We know the president will do right by the working class."

Biden, who has regularly advocated for unions and the right of workers to organize, has union support at a time when organized labor itself is enjoying 67% approval from Americans. 

The United Farms Workers, for instance, announced they would support Biden's re-election effort with an endorsement Tuesday, calling him, "an authentic champion for workers and their families, regardless of their race or national origin."

The labor movement is resurgent in the US

js/jcg (AP, Reuters)