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President Joe Biden joins a picket line with members of the United Auto Workers union at a General Motors Service Parts Operations plant in Belleville, Michigan.
DETROIT ― President Joe Biden visited striking United Auto Workers members outside a General Motors parts distribution center in Belleville, Michigan, on Tuesday, making him the first sitting president to join a picket line.
“Stick with it, because you deserve the significant raise you need and other benefits,” he said through a megaphone to a few dozen UAW members.
UAW President Shawn Fain, who accompanied him on the visit, thanked the president for his solidarity after publicly extending an invitation to Biden to join a picket line.
“Thank you, Mr. President, for coming ― thank you for coming to stand up with us in our generation’s defining moment,” he said. “And we know the president will do right by the working class. And when we do right by the working class, you can leave the rest to us, because we’re going to take care of this business.”
Biden was initially expected to join the picket line at Michigan Assembly, the Ford plant that makes Broncos and Rangers in Wayne, Michigan. But the president ended up making a more low-key visit to a smaller parts distributor, which on Friday became one of 38 additional sites to join the selective strike, aimed at turning up the pressure on General Motors and Stellantis in particular. Biden spent about 20 minutes with the workers.
Asked by a reporter whether the union members deserved 40% pay increases, which is part of what the UAW has asked for in negotiations, Biden shouted, “Yes.”
The visit underscores the political opportunity for Biden, who has long cast himself as a champion of unions, as he runs for a second term and sells voters on the successes of his economic policy agenda.
The UAW has so far declined to endorse Biden’s bid for a second term, though it endorsed him in 2020. The union has cited concerns that automakers receiving federal subsidies to produce electric vehicles are providing pay and benefits that are far below what unionized workers in the legacy industry receive.
But Fain’s remarks were a major vote of confidence in Biden, who stood arm-in-arm with a UAW member while Fain spoke and then took back the megaphone to offer a few final pro-union comments.
“Let me say it many times: Wall Street didn’t build the country. The middle class built the country. And unions built the middle class! That’s a fact,” Biden said.
“You deserve what you’ve earned,” he added. “And you’ve earned a hell of a lot more than what you’re getting paid right now.”
Fain told reporters after the event that he didn’t have a timeline for when the union might move on a 2024 endorsement. “Endorsements will come when it’s that time,” he said. “Our focus right now is the membership. This was about the membership.”
Biden endorsed the UAW strike shortly after it began on Sept. 15. The union is calling for pay hikes to match increases in executive pay, a speedy phase-out of the two-tier compensation system that disadvantages newer workers, and a restoration of benefits given up during the auto bankruptcies and bailouts in 2009.
The political need for Biden to hold an in-person event with UAW members became greater, however, after former President Donald Trump announced plans to rally with union workers in the Detroit area on Wednesday during the second GOP presidential debate. Trump’s campaign, however, is holding the event at a nonunion parts supplier, a move that Fain called “odd.”
Trump blasted Biden’s appearance in a statement on Tuesday afternoon. “This is nothing more than a PR stunt from Crooked Joe Biden to distract and gaslight the American people from his disastrous Bidenomics policies that have led to so much economic misery across the country,” he said.
Workers on the GM picket line in Bellville, which joined the walkout last Friday, said they were encouraged by Biden’s words and the attention it generated for their cause.
Mike Larson, a 38-year-old who works at Michigan Assembly, said Biden told them “he’s behind us, the middle class built America, and autoworkers built the middle class.”
Trump, who made inroads with blue-collar union members in 2016, claims that the Biden administration’s policies supporting a rapid transition to electric vehicles jeopardize union members’ jobs.
Lori Bradshaw, a worker at the Bellville GM plant, said she supports visits by both Biden and Trump.
“Politically, we can stand for different things. When it comes down to it, we gotta stick together. If President Trump doesn’t know anything else, he knows finances,” she said, adding that Biden has the experience of seeing firsthand the economy during different phases of industrialization and working on the Great Recession rescue package. “He’s been around,” she said.
CORRECTION: A prior version of this story referred to Ford Rangers by the incorrect name.