(US) – In a show of support for nearly 13,000 workers involved in a wage dispute with three major American car manufacturers, President Joe Biden has voiced his alignment with their cause.
The employees, representing General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis, initiated a strike on Friday over disagreements pertaining to new labor agreements.
Addressing the situation on Friday, President Biden acknowledged the frustration of the workers and emphasized the importance of equitable treatment.
He stated, “Workers deserve a fair share,” while recognizing the substantial offers made by the companies but urged them to go further to ensure that significant corporate profits translate into substantial contracts for the workers.
The strike is historic as it is the first to simultaneously target all three automotive giants.
The United Auto Workers union (UAW), representing over 140,000 workers across these companies, has even hinted at the possibility of expanding the strike depending on the progress of negotiations.
Union demands 40% pay raise in auto strike
Key demands from the union include a 40% wage increase over the four-year contract, among other requests, a figure significantly higher than the roughly 20% offered by the companies.
The UAW has justified these demands by highlighting the hefty compensation packages of company executives, each exceeding $20 million last year.
Currently, full-time workers at these plants earn an hourly wage of around $32, depending on seniority, in addition to bonuses and benefits. Temporary workers, a category the union seeks to reduce, earn less.
This dispute carries the potential to result in increased car prices and significant disruptions for the automotive giants.
The companies argue that the union’s demands are overly burdensome, particularly at a time when they are investing billions in transitioning to electric vehicle production.
General Motors CEO Mary Barra mentioned that negotiations were ongoing to address the differences. Meanwhile, Ford announced the layoff of 600 employees at a Michigan assembly plant due to the strike’s repercussions.
This standoff presents a test for President Biden, who has been grappling with persistent inflation and striving to gain public confidence in his economic leadership.
He has dispatched top advisers, including Labor Secretary Julie Su, to assist in the negotiations.
President Biden has positioned himself as the most pro-union president in history and is banking on organized labor’s support for his upcoming re-election campaign.
However, his relationship with unions has faced challenges, including last year when he signed a bill to prevent a strike by US rail workers.
In May, the UAW stated that it would not endorse President Biden’s re-election campaign, citing concerns about government subsidies for electric vehicle manufacturers not being accompanied by commitments to workers.
Throughout the strike’s initial days, union offices connected to the participating factories witnessed increased activity as workers signed up for picket duties and obtained protest signs.
Several politicians, including Senator Sherrod Brown and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, expressed skepticism about the companies’ warnings regarding the financial risks of meeting worker demands.
Senator Bernie Sanders was scheduled to attend a UAW rally in a show of support for the workers. Outside the striking Ford plant in Michigan, workers chanted ‘No deals, no wheels,’ and received honks of encouragement from passing trucks.
The workers argued that pay increases and other improvements were long overdue, emphasizing the sacrifices made during the financial turmoil of 2009 when they forewent automatic pay raises linked to inflation in support of the companies. Now, they find themselves fighting for their rightful benefits.