A strike by auto workers would test Biden’s claim to be the most pro-union president in US history

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The prospect of a strike by auto industry workers could be a test Joe Biden Dear confirmation that he is the most pro-union president in the history of the United States.

United Auto Workers Threat of strike against GM, Ford and Stellantis, if tentative contact agreements are not reached by 11:59 p.m. Thursday. This could reshape the political landscape in the battleground state of Michigan, and perhaps unleash economic shocks nationwide.

The auto industry accounts for about 3% of the country’s gross domestic product, although union leaders say they are considering that Strikes at a small number of factories run by these automakersUp to 146,000 workers may eventually be able to leave their jobs. The effects will be most acute in Michigan and other states with heavy auto jobs, such as Ohio and Indiana. But a prolonged strike could lead to vehicle shortages and layoffs in auto supply industries and other sectors.

“Anything beyond a week, you’re going to start feeling the pain,” said Marek Masters, a business professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. “Anything beyond two weeks, that’s when the effects start to get worse.”

Doc Killian, who worked at a Ford assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan, for 26 years, says he can no longer afford the cars he helps make, which shows how the country’s middle class has been squeezed.

“I think the American public as a whole recognizes the impact American auto workers have on the economy,” Killian said. “If we suffer, the American economy suffers.”

Biden has built his political career around such an argument, repeating the slogan that “the middle class built America, and the unions built the middle class.” His administration also did He advocated organized labor and promoted labor organizing Shamelessly, often with Biden He declares himself “The most pro-union president in American history.”

However, Sean Fine, who was elected president of the United Auto Workers union last March After promising to take a more confrontational stance In negotiating with automakers, he responded to Biden’s claim on CNN this week, saying: “I think there’s a lot of work to be done in this category.”

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Fine has sought to expand his argument beyond just auto workers, saying in a recent livestream that his union’s demands are about “lifting up workers everywhere.”

“I truly believe that all of America will stand with us in this fight,” Fein said.

Biden must also contend with criticism from the former president Donald Trump, the early leader in next year’s Republican presidential primary, who is now pushing for the UAW to endorse him. Trump has also criticized Rules pushed by the Biden administration Which requires that two-thirds of new passenger cars sold in the United States be fully electric by 2032.

“Stand strong against Biden’s ferocious attack on American workers and American autoworkers,” Trump said in a statement on Wednesday. “And if you want more jobs, higher wages, and higher pensions, vote for President Trump and get your leaders to support me. If they don’t, withdraw from the union and start a new one that will properly protect your interests.

But some union leaders and members scoffed at suggestions that the United States would not embrace efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because manufacturers in China and elsewhere might rush to produce electric vehicles if the United States did not. Fine, who has previously praised the “transition to a clean auto industry” as long as auto workers “have a place in the new economy,” said Trump is “not someone who stands for a good standard of living.”

Dave Green, regional director for the Ohio and Indiana Federation of Labor, said the former president “carries no credibility in my book” because he “has done nothing to support organized labor except lip service.”

Greene said he still considers Biden the most pro-union president of his lifetime. But he hopes the White House will not remain neutral in the event of a strike.

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“We don’t forget,” Green said. “When you are in distress, the people who are there support you – that goes a long way.”

Biden faced some criticism from labor groups last year when he urged Congress approves legislation prohibiting railroad workers from strikingFor fear of supply chains being disrupted as the holidays approach. But, unlike railroad and airline workers, the president does not have the authority to order auto workers to stay on the job.

Nowhere will the political fallout from an autoworkers strike be felt more than in Michigan, which Biden won by nearly 3 percentage points in 2020. The state has shifted even more During the first half of last yearLeaving the governorship and a Democratic-controlled Legislature for the first time in 40 years.

“The UAW is a major player in Michigan politics, and if there is a strike, no matter how long, it will have a political impact,” said Mark Brewer, former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party. Brewer said a strike would leave Biden forced to “speak and act consistent with his previous call for working people.”

However, it could mean alienating other allies, as Biden has in the past received support from major US automakers over the administration’s rules on future sales. Ray Curry, the former UAW president who was ousted by Fine, has worked with Biden in the past and even attended White House ceremonies.

However, Biden was keen to meet Fine given their shared working-class backgrounds, and they sat together face-to-face in the Oval Office in July. The White House says it has been in regular contact with the UAW since then, and that public communication is much better now.

“We regularly engage with the parties, and of course seek to support the negotiations in any meaningful way,” said Gene Sperling, a Michigan native and longtime Biden adviser who the president appointed as the administration’s point person on autoworkers negotiations. “But there is no alternative to the parties remaining at the table 24/7 to reach what the president wants to be a win-win agreement.”

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At a White House news conference on Wednesday, the head of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers did not answer questions about whether the president would support striking workers or whether he might intervene to try to avert a strike. Jared Bernstein cited Biden’s record of supporting unions and collective bargaining.

“The president has been very involved,” Bernstein said of the auto negotiations.

Union support was instrumental in helping Biden weather the crisis Slow start To win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and that helped him Wins Not just Michigan but Wisconsin and Pennsylvania when Trump was defeated in the general election that year.

Underscoring his commitment to organized labor, Biden’s only campaign rally since launching his re-election bid in April came in June in Philadelphia, when more than a dozen of the country’s largest and most powerful unions participated. Biden’s endorsement for a second term.

So many unions banding together for an unprecedented joint endorsement so early in the election cycle was a show of strength for the president. However, the UAW was conspicuously absent from the event. Fine has since said that if Biden wants the UAW’s endorsement for 2024, he will have to get it.

Other union leaders acknowledge what is at stake for Biden.

“Are strikes inconvenient for management?” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed Biden for re-election this summer. “Of course they are.”

But she said, “Management believes in workers and believes that workers have the ability to have a better life through collective organization and through collective bargaining.”

“That’s not a phonetic phrase for them,” Weingarten said. “This is a belief system.”

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Weissert reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Tom Krischer in Detroit contributed to this report.

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