UAW Seeking Friends in Washington DC, Threatens to Withhold Biden Support

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

uaw seeking friends in washington dc threatens to withhold biden support

UAW leadership headed to Washington last week to drum up support from politicians as it engages in contract negotiations with Detroit-based automakers. While this has often been the status quo for the union, UAW President Shawn Fain has suggested the government would help ensure a fair deal with the automotive industry.

While union leadership has opted to meet with the usual roster of Democrats, it has said it would withhold support of Joe Biden’s reelection campaign if it didn’t think the White House would be offering the kind of help it needs.

Despite suggestions that the UAW is asking for more than it had in the past, Fain wants to make it clear to Washington that the demands are reasonable and necessary to undo some of the losses its members had suffered in the past. To that effect, the organization gave a slide presentation to the legislature earlier in the week — arguing that compensation has failed to keep pace with the nearly $250 billion in domestic profit raked in by the three automakers over the last decade.

"Some of the slides really show how much workers have back-slid while compensation for the top executives is continuing to increase," said U.S. Representative Pramila Jayapal, a Democrat who took part in a labor caucus meeting with Fain.

UAW President Shawn Fain wants support from Washington and has suggested that the union will withhold any endorsement of Joe Biden's re-election campaign until it has a clear ally in the executive branch. While an aggressive strategy, it’s not exactly novel. Despite seeing relevant changes to its leadership this year, the UAW seems incapable of pivoting away from politics.

Considering the industry also works to sway the government, this was likely unavoidable. But the union is going to risk losing support from those who have long seen it as synonymous with left-wing politics. Though this may have been similarly unavoidable as establishment Republicans tend to view the UAW less than favorably. Regardless, there are aspects of the union’s new strategy that are anything but new and it’s hard to see what else could have been done.

One side of the aisle likes to use organized labor as a political tool and the other doesn’t seem to want anything to do with it since it lobbies for the other side. Though there have been exceptions, including now. Donald Trump has requested that the UAW endorse him for president, suggesting that the Biden administration’s focus on all-electric vehicles would negatively impact American jobs.

What Fain does appear to be doing differently is taking a hardline stance going into negotiations. Rather than trying to establish a blanket deal with a single manufacturer, the UAW has opted to take them all on at once and has not been shy when it comes to the prospect of organizing strikes. Of course, leadership has something to prove after rolling union scandals. Fain’s predecessors have been accused of taking industry bribes and allowing workers to become subject to decades of lackluster labor contracts.

Union leadership is framing this year as the comeback tour.

"It's a very uneven playing field right now," Fain told Reuters after one meeting. "Our workers have regressed. We've got to do better."

From Reuters:

The Detroit 3 have said they want to compensate fairly their hourly workers, but also have stressed a need for greater cost competitiveness as the industry shifts to EVs, a market dominated by Tesla Inc.
"The best way to provide job security for our 50,000 manufacturing employees is by keeping General Motors financially strong," GM manufacturing chief Gerald Johnson said in a video the automaker released on Wednesday on a website dedicated to the UAW talks.
The Detroit 3 rely on representatives in Washington to lobby for their positions.
Biden also faces pressure from former President Donald Trump, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination in 2024. On Thursday, Trump said Biden was "waging war on the U.S. auto industry" through "crippling" EV mandates and urged the UAW to endorse him.

Conversely, Biden's campaign has accused Trump of being exceptionally anti-union and suggested that “more than 120,000 auto manufacturing jobs have come back to the U.S.” with “new auto factories are [sic] popping up across the country.”

But the White House also seems hellbent on advancing electrification. Unfortunately, EVs have become a sticking point for unions around the world. Germany’s IG Metall criticized automakers (and the EU) for leaning into battery-powered vehicles after it became abundantly clear that the move would require far fewer folks on assembly lines. It also means manufacturers would need to lean on suppliers based in Asia until there’s a domestic alternative.

While the United States has tried to get ahead of this by introducing content requirements for EV incentives, the likelihood of electrification eliminating assembly-line positions is still very real. But the UAW seems unconvinced that localizing battery production will be enough to offset displaced union jobs. It’s broadly skeptical that electrification is for the good of the nation.

In June, Fain criticized the U.S. Energy Department’s plan to lend $9.2 billion to a joint venture between Ford and South Korea's SK Innovation. The plan is to construct three U.S. battery plants. But the UAW isn’t thrilled with the lower wages those site’s workers are assumed to be paid and would rather have them join its ranks.

While it’s a little early in the game to assume anything, the union has said striking remains a viable tactic. Fain has said Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis could all be subject to factory downtime depending on how talks progress.

It’s something the industry undoubtedly hopes to avoid and the same should be true for Washington. Considering the production shortfalls and inflationary pressure we’ve seen in the wake of the pandemic, nobody wants to be the guy that allowed widespread strikes to happen on their watch. The citizenry is already broadly dissatisfied with the government and the present economic conditions. Strikes would likely hamper plenty of politicians’ reelection prospects.

While some have argued that automakers could continue leveraging low vehicle volumes as a way to rationalize cost increases, the public appetite for overpaying seems to be running its course and hardly seems sustainable. 

While UAW leadership was previously satisfied with automakers making factory commitments to retain jobs, Fain has been focusing on improved benefits and wages (especially those tied to cost-of-living adjustments), with a hope that the Detroit 3’s joint-venture battery plants unionize. But the manufacturers have stated that those facilities are not wholly owned by them and that member status should ultimately be left up to the impacted workers stationed at the plants.

The union is also pressuring automakers to eliminate the two-tier wage system where new hires earn as much as 25 percent less than factory veterans. It’s believed that line workers should also be subject to incentive-based bonuses tied to how successful any given automaker happens to be. UAW leadership said this already exists for high-ranking executives, adding that they’re pay has grown out of pace with factory employees, and noted the government has given the industry a leg up by incentivizing the production of all-electric vehicles.

"They've made a quarter of a trillion dollars in North American profits over the last 10 years and they can afford to make things right for our members," Fain said earlier this month.

The union head met White House officials last Wednesday to discuss the union's bargaining positions, including a short encounter with Biden.

Reuters has reported that a union official has likewise confirmed Fain met with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and fellow Democratic senators Dick Durbin, Sherrod Brown, Gary Peters, Debbie Stabenow, and Bob Casey, as well as Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su.

[Image: Orhan Cam/Shutterstock]

Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by  subscribing to our newsletter.

Join the conversation
5 of 39 comments
  • Olddavid Olddavid on Jul 25, 2023

    That's what the UAW needs - a fellow traveler like Trump. He has been so union friendly in the past. These guys didn't check where the wind was coming from before pulling out their dicks.

  • Wolfwagen Wolfwagen on Jul 26, 2023

    What the US Auto Manufacturers should do is agree to give the UAW what they want with this caveat - One strike and your out for every single rule, policy, and procedure violation. Break a safety rule, get out; late for work, don't bother coming in your done. Insubordination, have a nice day, etc.

    Do that and the UAW will be tripping over their feet to keep the 2-tier wage structure, etc.

    Good employees don't need the UAW, the scumbags do. But the UAW needs both the good employees and the scumbags to keep the money filling the UAW coffers

    • See 2 previous
    • 28-Cars-Later 28-Cars-Later on Jul 30, 2023

      @LouThis is true of most salaried workers in the US, though the performance expectations can be a little vague and are not always enforced.

  • Theflyersfan The two Louisville truck plants are still operating, but not sure for how much longer. I have a couple of friends who work at a manufacturing company in town that makes cooling systems for the trucks built here. And they are on pins and needles wondering if or when they get the call to not go back to work because there are no trucks being made. That's what drives me up the wall with these strikes. The auto workers still get a minimum amount of pay even while striking, but the massive support staff that builds components, staffs temp workers, runs the logistics, etc, ends up with nothing except the bare hope that the state's crippled unemployment system can help them keep afloat. In a city where shipping (UPS central hub and they almost went on strike on August 1) and heavy manufacturing (GE Appliance Park and the Ford plants) keeps tens of thousands of people employed, plus the support companies, any prolonged shutdown is a total disaster for the city as well. UAW members - you're not getting a 38% raise right away. That just doesn't happen. Start a little lower and end this. And then you can fight the good fight against the corner office staff who make millions for being in meetings all day.
  • Dusterdude The "fire them all" is looking a little less unreasonable the longer the union sticks to the totally ridiculous demands ( or maybe the members should fire theit leadership ! )
  • Thehyundaigarage Yes, Canadian market vehicles have had immobilizers mandated by transport Canada since around 2001.In the US market, some key start Toyotas and Nissans still don’t have immobilizers. The US doesn’t mandate immobilizers or daytime running lights, but they mandate TPMS, yet canada mandates both, but couldn’t care less about TPMS. You’d think we’d have universal standards in North America.
  • Alan I think this vehicle is aimed more at the dedicated offroad traveller. It costs around the same a 300 Series, so its quite an investment. It would be a waste to own as a daily driver, unless you want to be seen in a 'wank' vehicle like many Wrangler and Can Hardly Davidson types.The diesel would be the choice for off roading as its quite torquey down low and would return far superior mileage than a petrol vehicle.I would think this is more reliable than the Land Rovers, BMW make good engines.
  • Lorenzo I'll go with Stellantis. Last into the folly, first to bail out. Their European business won't fly with the German market being squeezed on electricity. Anybody can see the loss of Russian natural gas and closing their nuclear plants means high cost electricity. They're now buying electrons from French nuclear plants, as are the British after shutting down their coal industry. As for the American market, the American grid isn't in great shape either, but the US has shale oil and natural gas. Stellantis has profits from ICE Ram trucks and Jeeps, and they won't give that up.