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Washington: US President Joe Biden on Friday called on automakers to concede more to workers who walked off the job at Detroit’s largest car companies, accusing them of enjoying record profits without sharing them fairly with workers.
The UAW strike at three factories owned by General Motors, Ford and Chrysler-owner Stellantis kicked off the most ambitious US industrial labor action in decades.
United Auto Workers members attend a rally in Detroit.Credit: AP
“No one wants a strike, but I respect workers’ right to use their options under the collective bargaining” system, Biden said. “I understand their frustration.”
The auto companies have made some significant offers in negotiations so far, Biden said.
“But I believe they should go further to ensure record corporate profits mean record contracts for the UAW,” he said, echoing sentiments by union leaders.
Labour unions like the UAW – which represents 146,000 workers – are key to Biden’s game plan for winning reelection in 2024. He needs their support to win key states like Pennsylvania and Michigan again, which stand to bear the brunt of any major strikes against carmakers.
United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain.Credit: AP
The UAW has yet to endorse Biden, the only major union not to do so.
A prolonged strike could be a drag on a US economy that has been performing better than expected, but is unlikely to lead to a recession, analysts say.
Biden said he would dispatch two members of his team, Gene Sperling and Labor Secretary Julie Su, to Detroit to ensure the administration is involved in talks and a “win-win agreement”.
Biden, who had predicted over the Labour Day weekend (September 4) that the union would not strike, spoke to union and automaker leaders on Thursday.
US President Joe Biden speaks about the auto workers strike from the Roosevelt Room of the White House.Credit: AP
The Biden administration is also discussing emergency aid to protect smaller firms that supply US auto manufacturers, a source with knowledge of the matter said on Thursday.
Former US president Trump, who is the leading Republican challenger for Biden’s 2024 re-election bid, criticised Biden’s push for electric vehicles on social media as a “total disaster” and attacked UAW leaders in an interview to be aired Sunday.
“The auto workers are being sold down the river by their leadership,” Trump said in the interview with NBC’s Meet the Press.
Under Trump, auto companies “would likely have gone bankrupt,” the Biden campaign said in a statement. “Trump will say literally anything to distract from his long record of breaking promises and failing America’s workers.”
The US Chamber of Commerce, one of the largest business lobby groups, blamed Biden on Friday for the strikes, and said they would result in higher costs for workers not in a union and lost profits for other businesses.
“The UAW strike and indeed ‘the summer of strikes’ is the natural result of the Biden administration’s whole of government approach to promoting unionisation at all costs,” said Suzanne Clark, the group’s chief executive, urging both groups to return to the bargaining table and end the strike.
Biden, 80, is tying his 2024 re-election bid to the health of the economy, highlighting job growth, rising wages and fading recession fears, which a prolonged strike could threaten.
The autoworkers’ strike comes as Hollywood writers remain off the job, after taking industrial action in May.
More filming ground to a halt when members of the SAG-AFTRA actors union walked off the job in July – in a highly visible move that has slowed TV and film production in the US.
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