President Biden made an unprecedented stop on Tuesday to join striking autoworkers on a picket line, the first such action by a sitting president.
The president stood in solidarity with the United Auto Workers union (UAW) at a General Motors facility in Belleville, Michigan, and spoke to the group over a bullhorn alongside union president Sean Fein.
“Wall Street didn’t build the country. The middle class built the country. Labor unions built the middle class,” Biden, wearing a baseball cap and a quarter-zip sweater, told the striking workers. Ta.
“Let’s go on. You deserve what you earn, and you deserve more than the paycheck you’re getting,” Biden said to cheers from the group.
He stood with UAW Local 174 workers wearing a red shirt and holding signs that read “UAW on strike” and “Save the American Dream.”
“UAW, you saved the auto industry in 2008 and before,” he said. “You sacrificed a lot, you gave up a lot, the company fell into trouble. Now they’re doing incredibly well. And guess what? You’re doing incredibly well, too. “There should be,” he said.
“You are entitled to the significant raises and other benefits you need, so keep doing that,” he added. “Let’s get back what we lost, okay?”
Negotiations between the UAW union and Ford, Stellantis and General Motors have focused on pay raises, pensions and career security. Workers also have concerns about electric vehicles (EVs) and how the transition will affect jobs and pay.
On Tuesday, workers standing around Mr. Biden in Michigan shouted, “Yes,” when a reporter asked if union members deserved a requested 40% pay increase. Then Biden answered, “Yes.”
The president has insisted on supporting workers during negotiations with the three major automakers. But he has so far declined to say he supports workers’ demands for a 40% pay rise and 32-hour work week.
Biden announced his decision to travel to Michigan hours after Fein announced the union would expand its strike to 38 Stellantis and GM parts distribution facilities in 28 states.
In addition to Fein, Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist II, Debbie Dingell, Shri Senedal, and Democratic Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib met Biden at the airport.
“This is truly a historic event and a historic day that the president is about to conduct,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on the drive to Michigan.
Former President Trump was in Michigan on Wednesday to speak with workers, and the events of the duel highlight the importance of Michigan and the 2024 union vote. Biden won Michigan in 2020 after Trump won it in 2016.
The UAW has not yet endorsed Biden, claiming in May that it had concerns about the White House’s focus on EVs. But the union said it would not support Trump.
Reporters asked Biden on Tuesday what it would take to win that support.
“I’m not worried about that,” Biden said.
—Updated at 1:43 p.m.
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