Democrats welcomed Biden’s upcoming visit to the Michigan picket lines

Democrats are hailing President Biden’s planned visit to Michigan on Tuesday to show support for striking auto workers as strikes against the Big Three Detroit automakers enter their 10th day Sunday.

The White House announced the news Friday as members of the United Auto Workers walked out of 38 parts warehouses and distribution centers for General Motors and Stellandis in 20 states. The strike surge saved Ford, adding 5,600 more workers to the strike for a total of 18,300 — about 12 percent of the union’s auto worker membership.

Biden’s visit to Michigan — which labor experts say is the first time a sitting president has gone on strike in at least 100 years — comes as his expected rival in the 2024 presidential race, former President Donald Trump, plans to offer his own. Speech to hundreds of union members in Michigan.

“President Biden is doing what he’s always done, which is to stand with American workers,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday. Defending the president’s decision to visit, Buttigieg added that a strong deal would be a “win-win” for both sides: “Leading to record profits, record wages for workers and record benefits.”

On CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (DN.Y.) also hailed Biden’s visit as a “historic event” warranted by the “crisis of inequality in our economy.”

Asked about UAW leadership’s decision to withhold Biden’s endorsement for the time being, Ocasio-Cortez said, “It has to be earned,” adding, “President Biden is working toward that, especially when he goes down to Michigan on Tuesday to earn it.”

Progress north of the border

The strike against Ford, General Motors and Stellantis began on September 15 at three auto manufacturing plants in Michigan, Missouri and Ohio that make the Ford Bronco, Chevrolet Colorado and Jeep Wrangler.

Friday’s extension of the strike focused on warehouses that send parts to dealerships and other locations for auto repairs. That move could increase pressure on General Motors and Stellandis as more U.S. drivers flocking to these areas could feel the effects of shutdowns across the country: Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, Orlando, Boston, Reno and beyond.

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See where UAW workers are on strike or temporarily laid off

Negotiations between Ford and Unifor, the union that represents 5,400 Ford workers in Canada, are running parallel to the UAW’s bargaining with the Big Three in the United States.

Unifor announced Sunday that 54 percent of workers voted to approve a deal that includes nearly 20 percent wage increases over three years for manufacturing workers and reinstatement of cost-of-living allowances. Unifor said it is focusing on reaching a deal with Ford first that could serve as a template before starting talks with General Motors and Stellandis.

Canadian Ford workers will get A 10 percent pay rise in the first year of the deal, faster progressions to higher wages, improvements in pensions and cost-of-living adjustments from 2008.

Talks also continued on the U.S. side with Ford on Sunday, according to a person who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private negotiations, and it was unclear if Stellandis and GM had continued meetings.

UAW President Shawn Fine said the union will not expand the strike against Ford for now because negotiations are progressing and the company has made more offers. This includes Ford’s agreement to provide cost-of-living adjustments to wages and new job-security provisions. However, the union is continuing its current strike against a Ford factory in Michigan.

For its part, Ford said Friday it is “working diligently with the UAW to reach an agreement that rewards our employees and helps Ford invest in a vibrant and growing future.” Ford added: “While we are making progress in some areas, there are still significant gaps to close on key economic issues. Ultimately, the issues are interconnected and must be worked into an overall agreement that supports our mutual success.

The United Auto Workers strike is about more than fair wages. For many of the pickets, it is also a struggle for the middle class. (Video: Lee Powell/The Washington Post)

Problem with wage levels

The reason for the new focus on warehouse workers is that they are often stuck with lower wages than assembly-plant workers, with those hired after 2015 dropping to $25 an hour after eight years on the job. The union also wants cost-of-living adjustments and other job security provisions for those workers, even as GM offers to move those workers to higher pay levels.

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Two UAW workers on strike at the same plant, very different lives

On Friday, about a dozen workers protested outside a GM parts facility in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., an industrial area that employs 72 people. They wore T-shirts that read “Cola and Fare Pay Now” and waved signs with slogans such as “Save the American Dream.”

One worker, Wornell Mitchell, said he has been with GM for about five years and makes about $55,000 a year, including bonuses and overtime. He called working in the warehouse a “labor-intensive job,” where workers spend all day on their feet, with one 30-minute lunch break and one extra 20-minute break.

“Our wages don’t reflect what the company has done in terms of revenue,” said Mitchell, the vice president of Local 6645, adding that “they want to keep our wages down” even though their CEOs and top executives make banks.

“I honestly think they’re really out of touch,” he said of the company’s leaders. “They are not laborers” that support their wages.

The union is demanding a 36 percent wage hike over four years, improved retirement benefits, higher wages and other benefits. Full-time UAW workers today earn between $18 and $32 an hour, and annual profit-sharing bonuses have been in the tens of thousands of dollars per worker over the past four years. Temporary workers earn $16 to $19 an hour and do not receive bonuses.

All automakers are offering raises of about 20 percent over four years and other incentives they say are their best in decades. They argue that they can’t meet all of the UAW’s demands, and that they can’t afford to invest in the new factories needed to make the expensive transition to electric vehicles.

GM on Friday called the strike surge “unnecessary” and accused union leaders of “manipulating the bargaining process for their own agendas.”

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“We have now launched five separate economic projects that are historic,” the company said. With a 20 percent raise in its latest offer, the company said 85 percent of GM’s UAW workers will earn a base wage of $82,000 a year by the end of the contract. It also offers two weeks of paid parental leave and other benefits.

Stellandis said he submitted a new offer with uneconomic plans The UAW did not receive a response Thursday. Its 20 percent pay raise offer said its full-time UAW workers would earn between $80,000 and $96,000 annually by the end of the contract. The company also questioned “whether the union’s leadership was interested in reaching an agreement in time.”

At a picket in Lansing

Meanwhile, outside a GM distribution center in Lansing, Mich., strikers this weekend expressed more mixed feelings about the high level of political attention expected in the coming week.

On Saturday, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) offered sandwiches and bagels for the picket line — a crowd made up of multigenerational UAW families and Michigan State students — but declined to comment on the strike. Speaking to a handful of union workers, he said his office would be “checked in”. Whitmer was earlier Negotiated with auto manufacturers and UAW to avoid strike.

Dwight Jackson, president of UAW Local 1753, which represents striking workers in Lansing, said he had “mixed feelings” about Biden’s visit.

His warning stems from the Obama administration’s role in the 2008 federal bailout of the auto industry, which forced auto workers to agree to major cuts in wages and benefits.

What happened when auto workers were the highest paid workers in America?

“There is [Biden coming] To support the workers or to support the billionaires? If he comes to support billionaires, we don’t need him,” Jackson said, noting that he “doesn’t divide Democrats and Republicans.”

Barry Webb, an auto industry veteran, said he was excited by the Democratic support but nervous about Biden’s move toward EVs. He spoke to Whitmer at the food tent on the picket line.

“I hope he goes down for the right reasons because I hear he’s more [EVs] than the union,” Webb said.

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