The leader of the United Auto Workers union on Thursday pushed back on President Joe Biden’s remarks last weekend dismissing the possibility of a looming strike against Detroit automakers as contract negotiations remain at a stalemate.
In an interview on “Morning Joe,” UAW President Shawn Fain was asked to respond to Biden’s remarks on Labor Day when asked if he was worried about a UAW strike. Biden said: “No, I’m not worried about a strike until it happens.”
Fain said the union’s intent is to reach an agreement with automakers.
“One thing we’ve said from the outset is things are not going to be as they always have been,” he said. “The companies in past negotiations always have a tendency to drag things out until the very end, and then they want to drop a bunch of stuff and just scramble,” he said. “And I’ve told them from from day one that we don’t intend to do things that way.”
The union leader stressed that it plans to bargain with all three Detroit automakers — General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis — until contracts for about 150,000 auto workers expire on Sept. 14. The union hopes to have an agreement by then, Fain said, but warned that “there will be action” if an agreement isn’t reached in that time frame.
“So you know, the way things are going right now, it’s looking that way,” he said, referring to a potential strike. “So hopefully, you know, things can change.”
The UAW backed Biden’s 2020 presidential bid, but when asked whether Biden will receive the union’s endorsement again, Fain said it is standing by withholding a reelection endorsement for now. Fain has said the president would need to address concerns about the auto industry’s transition to all-electric vehicles, including over job security, pay and organizing.
“We’ll make the decision when the time is right — when our members decide that time is right, and our leadership. And, you know, it’s a process we go through. The one thing we’ve made clear is that our endorsements are going to be earned, not freely given. It’s one thing we’re doing differently, and there’s a lot of work left to be done here.”
Fain said of Biden, who has vowed to be the most pro-union president, “with the EV transition, I do believe his intentions were good when he said he wants these to be good-paid or these to be union jobs. But as I said, you give the company an inch they take a mile. The companies interpret that as, they have no problem with this being union jobs, but they want it to be a race to the bottom,” he said, referring to slow pay increases in past instances and adding that the EV transition “needs to be a just transition.”
Fain went on to reiterate his denouncement of former President Donald Trump, referring to comments he made during his 2016 election campaign.
“I’ll never forget in the ’16 race when he spoke about workers in Michigan, union jobs and the Midwest, and said we need to do a rotation in this country, we need to move those jobs to other places that pay less money and then those people’ll be begging for their jobs back for anything,” he said. “That’s not a person I want as my president.”
Fain also took issue with Trump recently calling on autoworkers to stop paying their union dues while criticizing union leadership in a post to his Truth Social platform this week.
“That’s not someone that represents working class people. He’s part of the billionaire class, we need to not forget that,” he said. “And that’s what our members need to think about when they go to vote.”
The White House and Biden’s campaign did not immediately respond to NBC News’ requests for comment.
In response to Fain’s remarks, the Trump campaign released a statement saying the former president is vowing to call for a repeal of Biden’s electric vehicle mandate if elected.
“Joe Biden’s Electric Vehicle mandate will murder the U.S. auto industry and kill countless union autoworker jobs forever,” he said. “There is no such thing as a ‘fair transition’ to the destruction of these workers’ livelihoods and the obliteration of this cherished American industry. The only acceptable policy for UAW members should be the complete and total repeal of Biden’s catastrophic EV mandate.
Cheung also touted the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement that Trump signed in 2020 to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, which governed trade between the United States and its neighbors since 1994. He said the deal “imposed tough auto rules-of-origin to defend American workers.”
General Motors released statement Thursday saying it had “progressed to more detailed discussions” in the talks and made the union an offer “considering everything in our environment including competitor offers and what is important to our team members.”
The offer includes “well-deserved wage improvements” that exceed a 2019 agreement, it said.
Fain called the offer “insulating” in a statement in response.
“After refusing to bargain in good faith for the past six weeks, only after having federal labor board charges filed against them, GM has come to the table with an insulting proposal that doesn’t come close to an equitable agreement for America’s autoworkers,” his statement said.
A spokesperson for Stellantis said in a statement Thursday that discussions between the company and UAW’s bargaining team “continue to be constructive and collaborative.”
“Our focus continues to be on bargaining in good faith to reach a new agreement that balances the concerns of our 43,000 employees with our vision for the future — one that better positions the business to meet the challenges of the U.S. marketplace and secures the future for all of our employees, their families and our company,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We will not be distracted from this important work.”
Reached for comment on Thursday, Ford pointed NBC News to a press release saying that nearly 8,000 of its employees represented by UAW “received a substantial raise” on Labor Day.
“On average, these employees now earn $4.33 more per hour, or $9,000 a year. The increase could top $10,000 a year with overtime,” the press release said. “The pay hikes were negotiated by Ford and the UAW in 2019 to shorten the time it takes workers to reach the average top wage rate of $32 an hour.”
“These pay raises are an example of Ford’s commitment to improving the lives of our hourly workforce,” Bryce Currie, Ford vice president of manufacturing, said in the release, adding that the company is “offering further improvements in the next contract.”
Fain’s remarks comes days after he told The Detroit News that he was “shocked” in response to Biden’s assertion that an auto strike is unlikely.
“He must know something we don’t know,” Fain said, according to The Detroit News. “Our intent is not to strike. Our intent is to get a fair agreement. That’s been our intent from day one. But as we get down to the wire here, there’s three companies to bargain with and there’s 10 days left to do it. So I know what it looks like to me.”
Fain said Wednesday that a strike would show Biden and other politicians that they need to “pick a side” when it comes to organized labor.
“I think our strike can reaffirm to [Biden] of where the working-class people in this country stand and, you know, it’s time for politicians in this country to pick a side,” he said during CNBC’s “Last Call” with Brian Sullivan on Wednesday. “Either you stand for a billionaire class where everybody else gets left behind, or you stand for the working class, the working-class people vote.”