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President Joe Biden joines United Auto Workers on strike

(Photo courtesy of Liberty Unlocked) “President Joe Biden at UAW picket line.”

Johnathan Hatem
Connector Staff

United Auto Workers (UAW) strikers got a boost on September 26 when President Joe Biden became the first sitting United States President to visit a picket line.  

Invited by UAW President Shawn Fain, Biden spoke to a group of striking auto workers in Michigan. He offered his support for their cause, saying, “You deserve a significant raise. We saved them, it’s about time they step up for us.” 

UAW is made up of a diverse group of auto workers, including factory workers and parts manufacturers. The current demands of the UAW are a 40% pay raise, decrease in hours to 32-hour weeks, a return to receiving pension and cost of living adjustments, and an end to the previous pay system. 

This protest is targeting the big three automakers in the United States that employ union labor: Ford, General Motors (GM), and Stellantis. Ford owns, among many others, Ford, Lincoln and Volvo. GM owns brands including Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac. Stellantis produces many brands, including Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Ram and Maserati. 

Profits for these big three companies have increased by 92% from 2013 to 2022, totaling $250 billion, and CEO pay at these companies has increased by 40% during this time span. 

UAW’s previous deal, made in 2019, expired at 11:59 pm on September 14. Discussions prior to this expiration broke down as the big three companies were unwilling to meet the demands of UAW. Strikes began on September 15, utilizing targeted work stoppages that ensure members are able to continue working and making more money than the $500 promised by UAW for striking workers. This also lowers the stress on UAW strike funds.  

 On the tactics of the strike, Dr. Cluverius, a political science professor at University of Massachusetts Lowell, says, “The work stoppages and targeted strikes allow the UAW to be strategic about which specific assets they want to target…If your members are going broke, it’s very hard to keep them engaged in striking.” 

This flexibility also allows leadership to respond to the progress of negotiations with the three different companies. Shawn Fain was elected as the UAW president in 2023. According to Cleverius, he beat incumbent president Ray Curry on a platform of preventing corruption and ending the previous pay system. “Members knew that their contracts were coming up and I think they chose someone who they saw as the biggest advocate for them,” Cleverius says. 

This system, implemented in 2007 in the wake of the financial crisis, codified that the big three could pay new workers less than the pay of existing workers. Dr. Cluvierius says, “Two-tiered systems also serve to create resentment between new members of a union and the old guard leadership.” 

During the 2007 negotiations, the UAW also allowed the removal of the pension system they had in favor of a 401(k), as well as the freezing of cost-of-living adjustments.  

According to Cleverius, union membership has remained relatively flat over the past few years. Yet, there has been an increase in labor action. This can be seen in the SAG-AFTRA, Writer’s Guild, Teamster’s UPS, and Amazon strikes, among many others.  

On Biden’s involvement in UAW strikes, as well as others, Dr. Cluverius says, “Labor policy has been an underappreciated, important feature of the Biden administration.”  

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