DETROIT (Michigan News Source) – The Democratic politicians in Michigan all seem to be on the same page regarding the UAW (United Auto Workers) strike against automakers General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis. In what is the first time in history that the UAW has gone on strike against all three of the country’s unionized automakers at the same time, Michigan Democrats appear to be in lockstep in supporting the states’ nearly 150,000 UAW members.
That includes Democratic Michigan Governor Whitmer who was on X/Twitter on Friday posting a photo of herself in a red UAW jacket meeting with union members. She said, “We’re at our strongest when we’re working together – as Team Michigan – to create a brighter future where everyone is able to thrive. Michigan was built by working people and we stand together in the fight for good-paying jobs.” She also said in another X/Tweet, “When our workers succeed, our state succeeds. We are all on Team Michigan. I’m proud to stand with the hardworking men and women of the UAW and remain hopeful that this strike can be resolved quickly.”
Gov. Whitmer spoke at a UAW rally on Friday calling the union members “brothers and sisters” in front of a banner that read, “For our communities…against corporate greed.” She told the workers, “We all do better when we all do better” and talked about “building a brighter future where every person can succeed.” She also touted having repealed the state’s right-to-work legislation and she ended her speech by telling the union members, “I love you, I respect you and I stand with you.”
Although Gov. Whitmer is publicly supporting the UAW members, she is in a similar situation as President Biden in that she has to balance the relationship she has with her partners in the auto industry (partners she needs to succeed in her push of electric vehicles) with her support for the union members who are instrumental in Democrat politics in providing both votes and donations. Before the strike, she had told reporters at the Detroit Auto Show that she wanted both a strong auto industry and fair compensation for workers. She had said, “We can and must do both.”
Many in the media are saying that the UAW strike is a tricky situation for President Biden and the Democrats. A story by the Associated Press over the weekend had a headline that summed up the situation pretty well that said, “UAW strike exposes tensions between Biden’s goals of tackling climate change and supporting unions.” The AP said those goals have collided in the key election battleground state of Michigan.
That is because there are many autoworkers who are worried about how the transition to EVs (electric vehicles) will affect their future. Because they have invested billions of dollars into constructing EV factories in the United States, Biden, Gov. Whitmer and the Democrats have caused many autoworkers to see a new reality on the horizon – and that new reality doesn’t necessarily come up all roses for them. According to Ford CEO Jim Farley, EV production requires 40% less labor than vehicles with internal-combustion-engines and others are discussing how the batteries can be made in nonunion factories with much lower wages.
In a discussion with NPR Interlochen Public Radio, Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor) was questioned about a possible rift between autoworkers and their longtime allies in the Democratic party because of the battery issue and she said, “These negotiations are where the rubber hits the road.” However, she’s firmly on the side of the UAW. In a X/Twitter post on Saturday, she is pictured in red with UAW workers and said, “I continue to stand with our UAW brothers and sisters and Shawn Fain reminding the country how important our workers are and what they deserve.”
Many industry experts agree that big changes are on the horizon with the transition to EVs and not all UAW members are on board with that change – or on board with supporting Biden. In fact, the UAW has not yet endorsed Biden for president.
In addition to UAW members appearing on cable news shows over the weekend saying they won’t be voting for Biden, others are questioning the president’s involvement in the negotiations even though he’s the self-described “most pro-union president.”
Politico reports that at the Local 685 in Indiana, President Garry Quirk was sitting at a table at 9:00 p.m. on Thursday, before the strike was announced, and expressed uncertainty about what Biden had done regarding the negotiations. He said, “I don’t know what he’s done. Ask him. I don’t think he knows what he’s done. Seriously. I’m not trying to be mean.”
Sitting beside Quirk was Denny Butler who said about the many former presidents who have been in the Oval Office, “They’re all full of sh*t. We haven’t had a president in there for years, with the exception of Trump, that was really for the people, all the way back to the Reagan days.” He went on to say, “Historically, man, if you didn’t vote Democrat years ago, and you were in the union, sometimes you got your *ss kicked. Democrats were for the working people. That sh*t has changed. I’m telling you what, the Democratic Party was not what it was 20, 30 years ago.”
Biden, for his part, had his social media team put out an X/Tweet for him on Friday that said simply, “Autoworkers helped create America’s middle class. They deserve a contract that sustains them in the middle class.” The post also included a video where Biden said no one wants a strike but that he respected the workers’ right to use their options under the collective bargaining system and that he understood their frustration. He also relayed his hopes that everyone forge an agreement where everyone wins.
Former President Trump has called on the union members to make ending EV mandates a priority in their negotiations, saying that the U.S. auto industry will “case to exist” under those mandates. Trump said in a statement, “The best interests of American workers have always been my number one concern. That is why I strongly urge the UAW to make the complete and total repeal of Joe Biden’s insane Electric Vehicle mandate their top, non-negotiable demand in any strike.” The Detroit News also reports that Trump might be in Michigan soon to visit the UAW picket line.
Back in Michigan, the Democrats have been releasing statements right and left about where they stand in the strike and it’s clear to see that they stand behind the UAW.
Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee (MI-08) said in a statement, “I stand in solidarity with the hardworking men and women of the United Auto Workers in their fight for a fair contract. It was workers in my district, during the Flint Sit Down Strikes of 1936 and 1937, who first collectively bargained for fair wages and benefits. Today, UAW workers are standing up to strike for the same reasons. Every worker, not just those at the top, should get a fair share of the value they bring to the company. To the men and women of the UAW on the picket lines—I stand with you, and the American people stand with you, in your fight for a fair contract.”
Michigan Democratic Senator Debbie Stabenow said in a statement, “Our autoworkers are the backbone of the industry. They helped build the middle class in our country and keep our economy strong. They deserve just pay and benefits, job security, and the commitment to be treated as equal partners with our auto companies as they lead the new clean energy economy. I stand with the UAW.”
Michigan Democratic Senator Gary Peters said in a statement, “I stand in solidarity with UAW workers as they strike to fight for a contract that gives them the wages, job security, and benefits they deserve.”
Michigan Democratic Speaker of the House Joe Tate said in a statement, “Workers are the backbone of the American auto industry, and organized labor is a part of our state’s enduring legacy. Decades of hard work and leadership by unions forged a path to help ensure safe workplaces, competitive wages, and the ability to raise and support a family. They helped make the American dream a reality for generations of Michiganders. Michigan’s economy benefits when workers and industry negotiate together, in good faith, to reach consensus. Support for Michigan workers is a top priority for House Democrats, and our legislative accomplishments and agenda are a reflection of our commitment to help build a strong workforce and a thriving economy. I encourage a swift resolution to this impasse that delivers a fair contract to the UAW and maintains a competitive edge for the Big Three. The auto industry is Michigan’s legacy and its future, and there is surely a path forward that ensures our workers and our economy can continue to thrive.”
What that economy and the future of the auto industry looks like several years from now is anyone’s guess, but it will definitely be dependent on the outcome of the UAW strike and the success of the Democrats’ clean energy agenda and their efforts to mainstream electrification.