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US President Joe Biden has ordered two top White House officials to mediate talks between Detroit’s Big Three carmakers and the Auto Workers Union. Because he urged the parties to find an agreement that would end the historic strike.
Thousands of members of the United Auto Workers walked out of three plants in the middle of the night after the contract expired, their leadership rejecting the Detroit automakers’ final offer and prompting a strike for a better deal.
The walkout workers were met with cheers from fellow union members and supporters. The factories — a Ford plant in Michigan, a General Motors plant in Missouri and a Stellandis plant in Ohio — produce popular products such as trucks and sport utility vehicles.
Speaking from the White House on Friday, Biden urged the UAW and automakers to return to the negotiating table to strike a “win-win” deal.
The president said car companies were not sharing their “record profits” with workers “fairly” and said he understood the “frustration” of workers in the auto industry. The president said bumper profits enjoyed by automakers should be tied to “record contracts” for the UAW.
Biden also said he would send U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Sue and White House economic adviser Jean Sperling to help mediate the talks.
The president’s comments came hours after signs that the situation had already worsened since the strike began, with the chief executive of America’s largest automaker slamming the UAW.
“I’m very disappointed and disappointed,” GM’s Mary Barra told CNBC on Friday morning. “We don’t need to be on strike now. We put a historic offer on the table.
“Every negotiation takes on the personality of the leader,” Barra added, a reference to Sean Fein, who won the UAW presidency by promising a more aggressive stance against the automakers.
The UAW is asking for a 36 percent wage increase over four years, while the automakers are offering no more than 20 percent. The union wants to end the two-tier pay system, which takes four years for new workers to reach the same pay as longtime employees, which the carmakers have opposed.
An unprecedented strike by all of the Big Three carmakers at once could spread to more factories and distribution centers, depending on how the union fares at the bargaining table. The UAW called it the “Stand Up Strike,” a reference to the sit-down strike of the 1930s that helped create the new union and the larger American labor movement.
“If we have to go all out, we will,” Fine said Thursday. “Everything is on the table.”
The strike represents a political dilemma for Biden, who has presented himself as the most pro-union U.S. president in recent memory, and is now caught between his desire to support workers’ demands and his fear of the economic impact of the move politically. The main industry is the Midwest.
Many congressional Democrats have supported the UAW in its conflict with American auto manufacturers. Eliza Slatkin, a moderate Democratic member of Congress from Michigan who is running for an open Senate seat next year, said she will picket this weekend.
Some Republicans also expressed support for the striking workers. “We need higher wages for auto workers across our country and an end to the political leadership’s green war on their industry,” JT Vance, an Ohio Republican senator close to former President Donald Trump, wrote on social media.
Parra appeared on CNN on Friday, where he defended his pay, which he said was tied to the company’s performance. In response, the UAW posted on social media, “In eight and a half minutes [Barra] Appearing on CNN this morning, he made more money than any auto worker makes in a full day’s work. The big three want to keep it that way.
Economists worry that prolonged strikes could push up the prices of new and used cars and limit policymakers’ progress in curbing inflation.
“Such an outcome would herald another contraction for current inflation as it would halt recent soft readings. [consumer price index] component for motor vehicles,” said economists at JP Morgan. “If the final contract agreement includes significant wage increases, it could also present a downside risk for inflation in the sector.”