President Biden is making the case that fighting climate change can create jobs, countering a key Republican narrative surrounding the autoworker strike.
The president’s GOP opponents have sought to paint climate action as a job-killer, seizing on concerns over worker pay in the transition to electric vehicles in light of the ongoing United Auto Workers (UAW) strike.
But Biden, who has argued throughout his presidency that efforts to combat climate change can go hand in hand with workers’ interests, underlined that stance this past week in both words and actions.
He created a climate-jobs program that is expected to, in its first year, employ 20,000 people in jobs to fight climate change and protect the environment.
“We’re not just opening up pathways to decarbonization. The program is aimed at opening pathways to well-paying careers, White House climate advisor Ali Zaidi said. Biden launched the Partnership for Workers’ Rights with Brazil’s President. One of the issues the partnership aims to address is “advancing worker-centered approaches to the clean energy transition.”
“As I’ve told labor from the very beginning: When I think of climate change, I think of jobs,” Biden said in remarks announcing the labor partnership.
His comments starkly contrast recent rhetoric from his GOP rivals on the issue.
Former President Trump, looking to court Michigan voters, has repeatedly bashed Biden’s electric vehicle policies, saying on social media that they will ensure “the Great State of Michigan will not have an auto industry anymore.”
Other Republicans have also chimed in. Sen. JD Vance, R-Ohio, wrote in an op-ed recently that those who claim there will be a “just transition” to EVs, should visit Northeast Ohio and get a glimpse of the industry’s grim future. Union leaders have stated that they are not opposed to a move towards climate-friendly vehicles, but they just want workers paid fairly for jobs in electric vehicles. The UAW accused automakers, citing in particular the 2019 closure at a General Motors plant in Lordstown (Ohio), of cutting wages by using the shift to electric vehicles. It cited the fact that workers there were expected to earn more than $30 an hour. The UAW noted that a new battery factory from a joint GM/LG venture was opened in the region after the closure. However, it said the workers only earn 16.50 an hour. The joint venture, Ultium, has said that it “will work in good faith with the UAW to reach a competitive agreement.”
The discontent related to this shift is one of several issues fueling the strike, with the UAW and major car manufacturers yet to reach an agreement on a new contract. The strike is more about pay, with workers demanding wage increases, the elimination of temporary employment, pensions, and cost-of living adjustments.
The UAW has called on the Biden administration to do more to ensure that workers are protected during the EV transition.
In comments last week at the start of the strike, Biden similarly backed the transition but said he thinks it should be “fair” and a “win-win” for auto workers and automakers. On Friday, it was reported that Biden is set to speak to striking workers in Michigan next week and the president
to “join the picket line and stand in solidarity” with UAW workers.
Democratic strategists say that Biden and the party at large should be making this case that climate action can be a positive for workers, and should generally be looking to frame the energy-transition in economic terms.
Democratic strategist Eddie Vale, who used to work at the AFL-CIO federation of unions, said that the latest announcements from Biden are “good projects” for appealing to both environmentalists and labor.
He praised how Biden has handled the issue throughout his presidency. Vale stated that Biden does not make any remarks about green jobs, solar energy, or green energy without mentioning how unionizing these jobs is what allows people to reach the middle class. Reinish added that Biden should do more to emphasize the fact that there is “a lot to gain” from the energy transition. This includes doing “a number of interviews.” Reinish wrote in a subsequent email that Biden’s visit to Michigan was “a great move,” but that more work needs to be accomplished. said he plansVale noted that with the election still a year away, the president is likely to take further action on the issue.
“There’s a lot more things to come. He said that there are many more announcements and policies to come, as well as a great deal more campaigning. Biden is likely to continue to work with Biden on climate and jobs policy. The labor implications of climate change are complex. Some industries will decline while others will grow. “Most clean-energy workers will not come directly from the fossil-fuel industry,” Raimi said. The geography and skills don’t align very well to make that happen.” She added that if a factory is local, many workers “could potentially move over to a battery plant because of the transferability of skills.”
She added that if a factory is local, many workers “could potentially move over into a battery plant because of the transferability of skills, but … there’s this geographic mismatch that makes it a little difficult.”
Carley also said achieving a just transition to electric vehicles will include a balance of decarbonization, worker pay and keeping prices low.
“This energy transition, if it is to be done in a just and equitable way raises a whole bunch of really complicated trade-offs,” she said.
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