Biden Joins Striking Autoworkers in Michigan

26 September 2023

American President Joe Biden joined members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) on a picket line as they continued their strike against U.S. carmakers Tuesday.

Biden's action represents the strongest presidential support in history for striking workers.

"You deserve the significant raise you need," Biden said after arriving at a General Motors parts center west of Detroit, Michigan. He walked along the picket line, exchanging fist bumps with striking workers.

U.S. President Joe Biden joins striking United Auto Workers on the picket line, in Van Buren Township, Michigan on Sept. 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
U.S. President Joe Biden joins striking United Auto Workers on the picket line, in Van Buren Township, Michigan on Sept. 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

He said "yes" when asked if UAW members deserved a pay increase, one of the demands that the union has made. "No deal, no wheels!" workers said loudly as Biden arrived. "No pay, no parts!"

Candidates have appeared at strikes to show support for union members. During his 2020 Democratic primary campaign, Biden and others joined a picket line of casino workers in Las Vegas, Nevada. But sitting presidents have to balance the rights of workers, businesses and economic concerns. They have long avoided such appearances.

"No president has ever walked a picket line before," said Erik Loomis, a professor at the University of Rhode Island and an expert on U.S. labor history. Loomis added that presidents "saw themselves more as mediators. They did not see it as their place to directly intervene in a strike or in labor action."

Biden's action represents the strongest presidential support for striking workers since 1902. In that year, University of Texas historian Jeremi Suri said, President Theodore Roosevelt invited striking coal workers to the White House.

Biden joined the striking workers one day before former President Donald Trump plans another event with auto workers in Detroit. Trump is the leading candidate for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination and will likely face Biden in the general election.

The UAW strike against three major American carmakers started 12 days ago on September 14. The UAW targeted General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, the maker of Chrysler and Jeep. Thirteen-thousand auto workers went on strike that day. And another 5,600 joined them last week.

The labor union is asking for fewer working hours, improved benefits and a 36 percent raise in pay over four years. The group is also asking for union representation at new electric vehicle battery factories.

The group said workers had given up raises for many years to help auto companies through the 2007 to 2009 financial crisis. American auto companies also received government support at the time but have since become very profitable. The three companies have received net income of $164 billion since and $20 billion this year.

On Monday, Biden said "I think the UAW gave up an incredible amount back when the automobile industry was going under. They gave everything from their pensions on, and they saved the automobile industry." He added that workers should benefit from carmakers' riches.

Republicans believe Biden's push for electric vehicles (EVs) is unpopular with auto workers. In a statement on Tuesday, Trump accused Biden of "stabbing" autoworkers in the back. Biden's EV push, he said, will hurt the U.S. auto industry and cost jobs.

The auto industry and its labor unions usually play an important part in elections in Michigan and other midwestern states.

In 2016, Trump captured the White House by winning the state of Michigan among others. Biden won Michigan in 2020.

I'm Mario Ritter, Jr.

Hai Do adapted this story for Learning English based on reports from the Associated Press and Reuters.­­

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Words in This Story

picket –v. to stand in a public place and protest, especially for workers to call on an employer to pay them more money

deserve –v. to say if some should have something or not

significant –adj. important; notable

fist bump –n. a form of greeting that is meant to show agreement or solidarity

casino –n. a business where gambling, or games of chance, are offered

mediator –n. a person who works with opposing sides in an effort to bring them to an agreement

benefits –n. (pl.) things offered in addition to pay that are employers give their employees

battery –n. a device that holds electrical charge to power electric machines or electronics

net income –n. money from business that is left after costs are subtracted

pension –n. an amount of money that a company or government pays who is retired or unable to work any longer