President Joe Biden joined striking auto workers in Michigan for 12 minutes on Tuesday, standing with them on the picket line as they demanded higher wages.
It is the first time in modern history that a sitting president has joined the striking workers.
Biden walked down the line, shaking hands and exchanging fist bumps in solidarity. The president wore a baseball cap that read “UAW” in solidarity with the United Auto Workers and a blue sweater with the presidential seal.
The striking workers wore red shirts and carried signs. They sang, ‘What do we want? Contact! When do we want it? Now.’
The president used a bullhorn to address the crowd: “You’ve heard me say it many times: Wall Street didn’t build this country, the middle class built this country. The unions built the middle class. That’s a fact. Let’s keep going, you deserve what you’ve earned. And you’ve earned a lot more than you’re getting paid now.’
Asked whether workers deserved the 40% pay increase they campaigned for, Biden said, “yes.”
The president told workers he joined casino workers in Las Vegas during the 2020 campaign, but noted that “this is the first time I’ve done it as president.”
He spoke only briefly before handing the bullhorn to United Auto Workers leader Shawn Fain. He then joined the workers on the line and put his arm around someone as Fain spoke.
President Biden addresses striking auto workers; he spent 12 minutes on the picket line
Fain noted that it was historic for the president to join the line: “This is a historic moment: the first time in our country’s history that a sitting American president has stepped up and stood on the picket line.”
“I want to take a moment to join all of you in standing with our President and thanking the President. Thank you, Mr. President, for coming.”
“We know the president will do justice to the working class. And if we do right by the working class, you can leave the rest of us behind because we’re going to take care of it. Thank you for being a part of this.”
Biden shook a few more hands before leaving. He is heading to California to raise money for his re-election campaign. Saturday marks the end of fundraising for the third quarter.
It is unprecedented for a sitting president to join a picket line.
Experts on presidential and American labor history told the Associated Press that they cannot recall an instance in which a sitting president joined a sustained strike, even during the tenures of the more ardently pro-union presidents such as Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman .
President Biden put his arm around a worker on the picket line
President Biden listens as Shawn Fain, president of United Auto Worker, addresses the striking workers
President Biden joins striking workers on the picket line
On the way to Michigan, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre emphasized the “historic” nature of Biden’s trip.
“Today will be the first time a sitting president has visited a picket line in modern times. “This is an important message to America’s autoworkers and to every hardworking American across the country,” she said.
Biden’s visit comes after an invitation from United Auto Workers leader Shawn Fain. Fain greeted Biden when the president landed in Michigan.
Biden has called himself “the most unionized president in American history.” But he said Tuesday he wasn’t concerned about whether or not he would get United Auto Workers’ approval.
“I’m not worried about that,” he said.
He doubled down on his support for auto workers at an event at the White House on Monday.
“I think the UAW gave up an incredible amount of money when the auto industry went under. Think of everything, from pensions onwards. And they saved the auto industry,” Biden told reporters at an event at historically black colleges and universities.
“And I think now that the industry is roaring back, they need to get in on the benefit. And look at the significant increase in executive salaries and industry growth. They should benefit from it,” he continued.
“Yes, I support — I always support the UAW,” Biden said.
President Biden bumps fists with a striking autoworker
President Biden talks to a notable auto mechanic
Donald Trump will be in Detroit on Wednesday to address striking auto workers
President Joe Biden boards Air Force One for his trip to Michigan
His appearance on the picket line comes 24 hours before Donald Trump lands in Detroit to address striking workers.
The former president is calling out the United Auto Workers for its endorsement. The UAW is one of the few major unions that has not endorsed Biden.
Trump will speak Wednesday evening at Drake Enterprises, an auto parts manufacturer in suburban Detroit. He will target auto workers, plumbers and electricians — which will also act as counterprogramming to the Republican Party’s presidential primary debate that he is skipping.
He will meet separately with striking auto workers.
Fain has criticized Trump.
“Every fiber of our union is being used to fight the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers,” he said earlier this year.
According to Michigan polling firm EPIC·MRA, Biden’s support among union members has declined, while Trump’s has increased in recent months.
Trump led Biden 46% to 43% among union members in an August poll, after Biden led Trump 51% to 42% in June.
Michigan is an important state in the presidential elections. Trump won it in 2016, but lost it to Biden in 2020.
Both men want to win it in 2024.
Auto workers represented by the UAW went on strike at a small number of plants last week after the union failed to reach an agreement with General Motors, Ford and Stellantis.
On Friday, the UAW expanded that strike to 38 General Motors and Stellantis plants in 20 states. That about 13% of the union’s 146,000 members are now in the picket lines.
The union spared Ford additional strikes because the company has shown it is willing to reach an agreement, UAW President Shawn Fain said.
The union is asking for higher wages and working conditions, but the automakers say they cannot meet those demands because they must invest the profits in a costly transition from gas-powered cars to electric vehicles.
The workers’ demands include a pay increase of up to 40 percent, changes in contract length, a 32-hour work week with full pay for the current 40-hour week, along with changes to pension and health care plans.
The companies counteracted with a salary increase of 19.5 percent, compared to a previous offer of 17.5 percent.
Annual gross profit is up 34 percent at Ford and 50 percent at GM since 2019 and 19 percent at Stellantis between 2021 and 2022. NBC reported. The company was founded when Fiat Chrysler merged with Peugeot.
UAW workers picket outside Ford’s Wayne Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan
Trump has blamed Biden’s push for electronic vehicles as the reason why auto workers are suffering. It’s an accusation he is expected to repeat in his speech Wednesday night, and one he made Tuesday as Biden left for Michigan.
“Joe Biden’s draconian and indefensible mandate on electric vehicles will destroy the American auto industry and cost countless thousands of auto workers their jobs. The only thing Biden could say today that would help the striking auto workers is to announce the immediate end to his ridiculous mandate. Anything else is just a weak and insulting attempt to distract American labor from this cruel betrayal by Biden. Crooked Joe should be ashamed to show his face in front of these hardworking Americans he is stabbing in the back,” the former president said in a statement.
President Biden has given a major boost to the transition to electricity. The president has set an ambitious U.S. goal to achieve a carbon-free energy sector by 2035 and a net-zero emissions economy by 2050 at the latest.
He argues that his clean energy agenda, including the shift to electric vehicles, will create new manufacturing jobs.
His Inflation Reduction Act provided $370 billion for a clean energy and climate package that includes incentives for Americans to buy electric vehicles.