Biden says record profits should ensure record contracts as UAW strikes Ford, GM and Stellantis plants

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U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the contract negotiations between the United Auto Workers and auto companies in the Roosevelt Room at the White House on September 15, 2023 in Washington, DC.

Kevin Dietsch | Getty Images

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said Friday that workers should be fairly compensated as auto companies make record profits, after the United Auto Workers union began a strike against General Motors, Ford Motor and Stellantis.

“The companies have made some significant offers,” Biden said in a speech at the White House. “But I believe they should go further to ensure record corporate profits mean record contracts for the UAW.”

Biden said he is dispatching acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and White House senior advisor Gene Sperling to Detroit to help mediate negotiations. The pair have been involved with the talks up to now, Biden said.

“Auto companies have seen record profits including the last few years because of the extraordinary skill and sacrifices of the UAW workers,” Biden said. “Those record profits have not been shared fairly, in my view, with the workers.”

Nearly 13,000 autoworkers went on strike after contract talks ended Thursday night without an agreement.

Workers are striking at GM’s midsize truck and full-size van plant in Wentzville, Missouri; Ford’s Ranger midsize pickup and Bronco SUV plant in Wayne, Michigan; and Stellantis’ Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator plant in Toledo, Ohio. For Ford, UAW President Shawn Fain said only workers in the paint and final assembly areas will be on strike.

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In an interview with NBC News’ Kristen Welker set to air Sunday on “Meet the Press,” former President Donald Trump was critical of Fain and what’s ahead for autoworkers, saying that in the near future “those jobs are all going to be gone.”

“Under Trump, autoworkers shuttered their doors and sent American jobs overseas,” Ammar Moussa, spokesperson for the Biden campaign, said in a statement Friday after the president’s remarks. “Under Trump, auto companies would have likely gone bankrupt, devastating the industry and upending millions of lives.”

The Biden administration has played a role in resolving several recent union disputes, including in talks that resulted in a dockworkers contract ratified Aug. 31 and averting a rail workers strike in December. Unlike the rail workers’ strike, though, Biden does not have legal authority to intervene; instead, he has urged both sides to stay at the negotiating table.

The UAW strike places Biden in a tough position. He’s branded himself as “the most pro-union president in American history,” but the UAW demands are in part a response to his electric vehicle policies, which the union says will cost jobs. Proposed Environmental Protection Agency standards for 2027-2032 call for 67% of new vehicles to be electric by the end of the time frame, in part resulting in a 56% emissions cut.

The UAW, which represents about 146,000 workers across Ford, GM and Stellantis, has historically supported Democrats and endorsed Biden in 2020, but it is the only major union that has yet to endorse the president for reelection.

The UAW is asking for 40% hourly pay increases; a reduced, 32-hour, workweek; a shift back to traditional pensions; the elimination of compensation tiers and restoration of cost-of-living adjustments; as well as other items including enhanced retiree, vacation and family leave benefits.

The companies made record proposals to address some of the UAW’s ambitious demands but they haven’t been enough to sway the union. Automakers have offered wage increases of roughly 20%, cost-of-living adjustments, altered profit-sharing bonuses, and enhanced vacation and family leave.