Fighting climate change and boosting the middle class by supporting unions are two of President Joe Biden’s top priorities, but they are at odds in Michigan, a crucial swing state, as the United Auto Workers go on strike against the nation’s largest automakers.
Less than one-tenth of the union’s entire membership, or 13,000 employees, are now on strike, but it’s an important test of Biden’s capacity to manage a wide-ranging and contentious political alliance while seeking reelection.
To cut greenhouse gas emissions and stop China from tightening its hold on a developing industry, Biden is attempting to jump-start the market for electric automobiles. His most famous piece of legislation, the Inflation Reduction Act, provides incentives worth billions of dollars to encourage the use of more environmentally friendly vehicles.
Some UAW members worry that the changeover would result in job losses since fewer employees are needed to build electric automobiles. High-capacity battery manufacturing may create new job possibilities, but there is no assurance that such plants will be unionized, and they are frequently being planned in areas that are more hostile to organized labor.
Erik Gordon, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, stated, “The president is in a really tough position.” “A magic wand is all he needs to be the greenest and most pro-labor president ever.”
The union is increasing the pressure with its planned strike by calling for significant pay increases and improved benefits. Employees at the Ford Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, according to Brittany Eason, who has been there for 11 years, are concerned that they will “be pushed out by computers and electric vehicles.”
Eason, who intended to walk the picket line this weekend, asked, “How do you expect people to work with ease if they’re in fear of losing their jobs?” She said that although the use of electric cars may be necessary, modifications must be done “so everyone can feel secure about their jobs, their homes, and everything else.”
In remarks from the White House on Friday, Biden acknowledged the issue, adding that the switch to renewable energy “should be fair and a win-win situation for autoworkers and auto companies.”
To expedite the process, Obama sent key advisers to Detroit. Obama also pushed management to provide more favorable concessions to the union, stating that “they should go further to ensure record corporate profits mean record contracts.”
The UAW wants to represent workers at battery facilities as part of its demands, which would have an impact on an industry whose supply lines have been drastically altered by technological advancements.
“Batteries are the power trains of the future,” declared Dave Green, a regional director for the union in Ohio and Indiana. “Our employees in the gearbox and engine areas must be able to transition to the new generation.”
However, as their businesses get ready to compete in a global market, executives are determined to put a lid on labor expenses. The majority of electric cars and batteries are produced in China.
“The UAW strike and indeed the ‘ summer of strikes’ is the natural result of the Biden administration’s ‘whole of government’ approach to promoting unionization at all costs,” stated Suzanne Clark, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Recognizing the importance of labor in gaining funding for climate programs, some environmental organizations have declared their support for the strike.
Sam Gilchrist, deputy national outreach director of the Natural Resources Defence Council, declared that “the auto industry is at a critical juncture in its history.”
The strike now has more stakes because of presidential politics, which, depending on how long it lasts and whether it expands, may hurt the economy in an election year. It is also centered in Michigan, which was essential to Biden’s success in 2020 and to his hopes of winning a second term.
The Republican front-runner for the nomination, former President Donald Trump, sees a chance to draw a gulf between Biden and the working class. Biden “will murder the U.S. auto industry and kill countless union autoworker jobs forever, especially in Michigan and the Midwest,” he declared in a statement. There is no such thing as a “fair transition” when it comes to wiping down this valued American business and destroying the livelihoods of these employees.
Trump stated that “electric cars are going to be made in China,” not the United States, in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” and that “the autoworkers are being sold down the river by their leadership.”
Trump’s remarks haven’t won Shawn Fain, president of the UAW, any favors.
This month, he said on MSNBC, “That’s not someone who represents working-class folks. He belongs to the billionaire class. We must keep it in mind. And when they cast their votes, our members need to keep that in mind.
A spokeswoman for Biden’s campaign, Ammar Moussa, claimed that Trump “will say anything to distract from his long record of breaking promises and failing America’s workers.” He pointed out that, in contrast to President Barack Obama, who bailed out car firms during the financial crisis, Trump would have allowed them to go bankrupt.
But Biden and the workforce also have their differences.
As part of a joint venture between Ford and a South Korean corporation, the Energy Department announced a $9.2 billion loan for battery factories in Tennessee and Kentucky. Fain said that the federal government was “actively funding the race to the bottom with billions in public money.”
The White House has to do more, according to Madeline Janis, co-executive director of Jobs to Move America, a group that focuses on environmental and worker concerns.
“We don’t have enough career pathways for people to see themselves in this future and let go of the jobs in industries that are causing our world to be in crisis,” she said.