WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden dispatched two senior administration officials to Detroit on Friday after the United Auto Workers union began a historic strike against the Big Three auto companies amid a contract dispute.
“Over the past decade auto companies have seen record profits, including over the last few years because of the extraordinary skill and sacrifice of the UAW workers,” Biden said from the White House. “Those record profits have not been shared fairly, in my view, with those workers.”
Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and senior adviser Gene Sperling will both travel to Detroit “to offer their full support,” he said.
“The companies have made some significant offers, but I believe they should go further to ensure that record corporate profits mean record contracts for the UAW,” Biden said.
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said later in the day the two officials aren’t planning to actually participate in the talks.
“Negotiations are up to the parties to work out, that’s why there is a collective bargaining system,” Jean-Pierre said. “They are not going to intervene or mediate. They are here to help in any way that is needed. Again, we have engaged with these parties from almost the beginning.”
The strike affects Ford, General Motors and Stellantis, though the union hasn’t pulled workers from all of the companies’ union plants.
Instead, union leaders are having workers strike different plants on different days. On Friday, UAW workers were striking at a Ford plant in Wayne, Michigan; a GM plant in Wentzville, Missouri; and a Stellantis Jeep plant in Toledo, Ohio.
UAW President Shawn Fain told picketers outside the Michigan plant the strike wasn’t solely about its union workers, according to the Michigan Advance.
“This is about working people in this country. No matter what you do in this country you deserve your fair share of equity,” Fain said.
But Fain appeared to take exception on Friday to Biden saying that negotiations had broken down.
“We don’t agree when he says negotiations have broken down. Our national elected negotiators and UAW leadership are hard at work at the bargaining table,” Fain said in a written statement. “Our members and allies are standing strong at the picket lines. Anyone who wants to stand with us can grab a sign and hold the line.”
Biden, speaking from the Roosevelt Room, said that as the country continues to transition to electric vehicles “that transition should be fair and a win-win for auto workers and auto companies.”
“But I also believe a contract agreement must lead to a vibrant made-in-America future that promotes good, strong middle class jobs that workers can raise a family on,” Biden said.
Louisiana Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy, ranking member on the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said in a written statement Friday the strike “is the latest example of the folly of pursuing policy on the sake of ideology, as opposed to a clear understanding of the consequences of those decisions.”
“Pushing to electric vehicles when the United States does not have the critical minerals, when it makes us vulnerable to (the) Chinese supply chain, and when the UAW is now calling a strike, will endanger our economy,” Cassidy said.
The UAW and the auto companies, Cassidy said, must “bargain in good faith towards an agreement that benefits all.”
Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown joined striking workers at the Stellantis Toledo Assembly Complex, according to a statement from his office.
“UAW workers made sacrifices to save the American auto industry,” Brown said. “Now the Big 3 are making record profits — all workers are asking for is their fair share. The companies need to bargain in good faith and agree to a fair contract that honors the Dignity of Work.”
Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. John Fetterman said in a written statement that he’s on the side of striking UAW workers, not the auto companies’ CEOs.
“As long as these brave workers continue to walk the picket line, my entire team and I will have their backs,” Fetterman said. “All these workers are asking for is for their basic needs to be met, to share in the enormous wealth they have created for their companies.”