Biden stresses support for unions and meets with UAW president after strike

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President Joe Biden on Thursday emphasized his support for unions during a trip to Illinois and celebrated the reopening of a Stellantis plant after tentative deals were recently struck between the United Auto Workers and three major U.S. automakers following a strike that lasted weeks.

Biden also met with United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain, as well as union members in his visit to the city of Belvidere, northwest of Chicago.

"I want to thank you for your commitment to the solidarity, for exercising your right to bargain collectively," Biden said in remarks delivered to an audience of union members. "You made this happen."

The president told the crowd that they are changing "the face of the country economically" with their efforts.

The plant's planned reopening will help highlight Biden's commitment to "rehiring and retooling the EV and EV battery jobs in the same communities where auto jobs have created good-paying union jobs for decades," White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Wednesday, ahead of the president's trip. The plant had been idled early this year.

The UAW struck a tentative agreement with General Motors late last month, days after making similar breakthroughs with Ford and Stellantis. The White House and Fain have touted the Stellantis plant's planned reopening as the result of the tentative agreement between the UAW and the company, which owns Chrysler.

The White House has said that the factory's reopening would bring back “more than all of the 1,200 jobs lost, and at higher wages.” The company is also adding about 1,000 new union jobs because Stellantis is investing in new battery manufacturing, the White House said.

Biden frequently highlights unions in his economy speeches, claiming he is the “most pro-union president” in history. He visited a UAW picket line in Michigan early in the autoworkers’ strike, becoming the first sitting president to do so.

“You saved the automobile industry back in 2008 and before,” Biden said in remarks on the picket line in September. “You made a lot of sacrifices. You gave up a lot, and the companies were in trouble. But now they’re doing incredibly well. And guess what? You should be doing incredibly well too.”

Ahead of his remarks on Thursday, a local union leader gave Biden a T-shirt from the union chapter, which he wore during his speech.

"That shirt looks good on you," an audience member yelled during the program.

Biden's remarks were briefly interrupted at the beginning by a protester who shouted for him to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. The crowd booed the interruption while Biden tried to quell the tension, saying: "Let her go ... it's OK."

The UAW strike started in mid-September as union members worked to negotiate contracts with the three big automakers. The union was ultimately able to negotiate contracts that would provide union members with increased pay and reinstate cost-of-living adjustments, among other benefits.

"My administration will keep working to make sure UAW has what it needs to outcompete China and everyone else in the world. I've reminded other world leaders it's never, never, never been a good bet to bet against America," Biden said during his remarks.

Biden also took a shot at former president Donald Trump during his speech, mentioning him by name which he often refrains from doing in remarks to the public.

"Is there ever anything America set its mind to as a nation that we’ve done together and we haven’t succeeded?" Biden said. "Well, you know, Donald Trump often says, 'We’re now a failing nation. We’re a nation in decline.'" The audience booed in response, with one person shouting, "put him in jail!"

Following the event, Fain called Biden's visit "a great day." But despite the praise, the UAW has not endorsed Biden's re-election bid. The union endorsed him in 2020.

"Our primary focus right now is just getting the contracts ratified," Fain told NBC News. "You know, getting the membership, the information they need to make a decision." He added that there will be a time for making endorsements.

Biden's remarks come just a day after a tentative agreement was also reached between the actors union SAG-AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, potentially ending a monthslong actors strike that along with a writers strike, ground Hollywood to a halt. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is a trade group that bargains for studio and streaming services and represents Comcast, which owns NBC News.

“When both sides come to the table to negotiate in earnest, they can make businesses stronger and allow workers to secure pay and benefits that help them raise families and retire with dignity,” Biden said in a statement celebrating the tentative agreement.

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