President Joe Biden sought to ramp up pressure on the United Auto Workers union and the nation’s three unionized automakers – Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, known as the “Big Three” – one month ahead of a critical deadline for labor talks.
“As the Big Three auto companies and the United Auto Workers come together — one month before the expiration of their contract — to negotiate a new agreement, I want to be clear about where I stand. I’m asking all sides to work together to forge a fair agreement,” Biden said in a new statement Monday.
The White House has been closely monitoring the talks as the two sides appear far apart. The union is demanding significant pay raises of 40% or more for members to match increases in CEO pay at the companies over the last four years and a reversal of past concessions by the union.
Negotiations could put the White House at odds with the union. While the AFL-CIO, which is made up of multiple independent unions, has already endorsed Biden’s reelection bid, calling him the “most pro-union president in our lifetimes,” the UAW itself has yet to join in that endorsement. A strike could have massive economic – and political – consequences. Biden and UAW President Shawn Fain met briefly in the West Wing last month while UAW leadership was at the White House briefing senior staff on their positions.
The three contracts between the UAW and General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, which sells cars and trucks under the Dodge, Ram and Chrysler brands, are due to expire September 14. Fain last week denounced the most recent offer from Stellantis, throwing a copy of the offer in the trash during a video for members. Plans for strike authorization votes at all three companies is expected to be announced soon, the union said Monday.
Traditionally the UAW will select one of the three companies to go first and have the other two put on hold while it concentrates on reaching a deal, then the union will push for similar from the other two automakers as part of a “pattern.”
The UAW is pushing for an aggressive set of demands at the negotiating table, and has been critical of the Biden administration’s financial support for the transition to electric vehicles, arguing that the Biden administration has been overly supportive of automakers’ plans for EV battery plants that are expected to pay far less than union wages. Fain has publicly warned that UAW is prepared to strike, saying nearly 150,000 members will strike if the three automakers do not meet their demands.
CNN has previously reported that while Biden enjoys hefty support from leadership of many unions, he has also faced lingering mistrust and concern among some of the rank-and-file of the UAW, according to people familiar with the dynamics, a perception fueled in part by the president’s intervention to avert a freight rail strike in December.
In a nod to the UAW’s demands, Biden used the union’s “fair transition” to clean energy language.
“I support a fair transition to a clean energy future. That means ensuring that Big Three auto jobs are good jobs that can support a family; that auto companies should honor the right to organize; take every possible step to avoid painful plant closings; and ensure that when transitions are needed, the transitions are fair and look to retool, reboot, and rehire in the same factories and communities at comparable wages, while giving existing workers the first shot to fill those jobs,” Biden said in the statement.
The UAW said it saw the White House statement as an endorsement of it bargaining position.
“We appreciate President Biden’s support for strong contracts that ensure good paying union jobs now and pave the way for a just transition to an EV future,” said Fain in a statement. “We agree with the president that the Big Three’s joint venture battery plants should have the same strong pay and safety standards that generations of UAW members have fought for.”
Ford and Stellantis said they, too, want to reach deals that would avoid a strike.
Ford pointed out that it employs more UAW members and builds more cars and trucks at US plants than any other automaker.
“We look forward to working with the UAW on creative solutions during this time when our dramatically changing industry needs a skilled and competitive workforce more than ever,” it said.
“Stellantis remains committed to working constructively and collaboratively with the UAW to negotiate a new agreement that balances the concerns of our 43,000 employees with our vision for the future,” said that company.
GM did not have an immediate response to the White House statement.
The union is concerned about the plans by all three automakers to convert from traditional gasoline powered vehicles to EVs in the coming decades. it takes an estimated one third less hours of work to assemble an EV than a car with an internal combustion engine, since that engine and the transmission that goes with it has so many moving parts missing from an EV.
The Biden administration has been active in supporting the switch to EVs, providing tax credits for EV buyers and loans to build plants necessary for EVs, such as those that make batteries.
There are about a dozen EV battery plants now under construction nationwide. For the most part, those plants are joint ventures between automakers and battery makers, and thus will not be covered under the UAW contracts with the Big Three. Workers at the one battery plant for one of the Big Three to open so far, a Warren, Ohio, plant for the joint venture between GM and LG, voted 98% in favor of joining the UAW. But the union has yet to reach a deal with plant management on a contract, and workers there are paid about half of what UAW members are paid at the Big Three.
– CNN’s Vanessa Yurkevich contributed to this story