Joe Biden defends UAW strike; tells industry they must share record profits

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WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden urged Detroit’s Big Three automakers on Friday to share their profits with workers, appearing to tip the scales toward United Auto Workers who walked off the job in a contract dispute with car manufacturers.

Speaking from the White House just hours after 13,000 auto workers went on strike, Biden said auto companies have benefitted from record profits but have not shared them with workers.

“No one wants to strike,” Biden said, but he defended the workers' right to do so and to participate in collective bargaining.

Biden, who has described himself as the most pro-union president in history, said automakers have made some significant offers to workers, “but I believe they should go further to ensure record corporate profits mean record contracts for the UAW.”

"The bottom line is that auto workers helped create America's middle class," Biden said. "They deserve a contract that sustains them and the middle class."

Biden said he was dispatching two of his top aides – acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and White House senior adviser Gene Sperling – to Detroit to help the parties reach an agreement. He called on both sides to return to the negotiating table and stay as long as needed.

Auto workers stopped making cars and went on strike when their contracts expired at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Thursday. The strike targeted specific plants of Ford Motor Co., General Motors and Stellantis, which makes Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Fiat brands.

The strike is the first time in the union’s 88-year history that it walked out on all three companies simultaneously.

Striking Ford Motor Company workers picket outside of Gate 9 at the Michigan Assembly in Wayne where the Ford Bronco is made on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.
Striking Ford Motor Company workers picket outside of Gate 9 at the Michigan Assembly in Wayne where the Ford Bronco is made on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023.

Ten states would take the brunt of any economic hit in a protracted strike against the Big Three automakers. The strike's impact could reach beyond Michigan and as far as Texas and New York, according to a report by Michigan economists.

Biden's warning comes as a new USA TODAY and the Suffolk University Sawyer Business School poll released this week showed Americans' lingering concerns about rising costs, suggesting he’s losing his argument on the economy.

The auto workers' union is asking for a 40% wage increase over the life of the contract, restoring a cost-of-living allowance adjustment to counteract inflation, defined benefit pensions for all workers, a reduced work week and more paid time off, increased benefits for retirees and limiting the use of temporary workers.

More: UAW strike 2023 against Detroit automakers: Live updates, news from the picket sites

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Striking Ford Motor Company employees represented by the UAW and Local 900 picket on the sidewalk across the entrance to Gate 9 at the Michigan Assembly in Wayne blocking independent truck drivers from getting into the plant on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. A member of the Teamsters told the truckers that the strikers would be here all day and that it would be impossible for them to pull in for their deliveries or pickups.

Why is UAW going on strike?

The auto workers' union launched the historic strike late Thursday by targeting all three Detroit automakers at once after contract negotiations failed to land a new deal. UAW members walked off the job at three assembly plants in Michigan, Ohio, and Missouri.

The first three facilities targeted are Ford Michigan Assembly Plant (Final Assembly and Paint only) in Wayne, Michigan, Stellantis Toledo Assembly Complex in Ohio, and General Motors Wentzville Assembly in Missouri.

Union leaders have said they will select new target plants for strikes in various waves if negotiations continue to fail to land new agreements with the auto companies. The strategy is designed to keep the automakers off-guard and leverage the union's position to secure a better contract than the offers the Detroit automakers have made so far.

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Contributing: Jamie L. LaReau, Susan Tompor

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: UAW strike: Biden urges companies to share profits with workers