Workers based at auto plants in Michigan are set to receive a pay increase if union members ratify the agreement reached between the United Auto Workers union and three major auto manufacturers. During the strike that led to the new agreement, the union had the backing of President Joe Biden, while Republican presidential candidates criticized the union.
The union began its strike on Sept. 15 after it was unable to reach an agreement with automakers before the expiration of the existing contract.
The UAW announced on Oct. 30 that it had reached an agreement with General Motors after reaching agreements with Stellantis (formerly Chrysler) and Ford earlier in the month.
In Michigan, more than 300,000 workers are involved in auto manufacturing, either as direct employees of the big three automakers involved in the strike or as employees of other companies connected to the industry. Michigan has more autoworkers than any state in the U.S. and has been the center of the U.S. auto industry for over 120 years.
“We were relentless in our fight to win a record contract, and that is exactly what we accomplished,” union president Shawn Fain said in a video announcing the agreement.
If the deal is ratified by union members, workers will receive a series of pay increases resulting in a total 25% increase by April 2028. The agreement will also restore cost-of-living increases that were suspended in 2009 and includes a $5,000 ratification bonus.
“This historic contract is a testament to the power of unions and collective bargaining to build strong middle-class jobs while helping our most iconic American companies thrive,” Biden said in a statement.
Biden traveled to Van Buren Township on Sept. 26 and walked the picket line with striking autoworkers, becoming the first sitting president to walk a picket line. At the event, Biden noted that union members had sacrificed pay to help auto companies during the 2008 recession. Describing the current economic fortunes of the auto companies as “doing incredibly well,” Biden told the employees, “You should be doing incredibly well too.”
In contrast to Biden’s support, Republican presidential candidates have either criticized the union’s actions or declined to express open support for the union’s positions.
Former President Donald Trump declined to side with the striking workers, telling NBC News in a “Meet the Press” interview that aired on Sept. 17 that he was “on the side of making our country great.” Trump also said UAW’s Fain was “not doing a good job in representing his union.” Trump blamed the union’s disagreement with auto companies on the Biden administration’s support for electric vehicles.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis described the Biden administration’s push for electric vehicles as a threat to autoworkers in an interview with Iowa CBS affiliate KCCI. “It’s an example of government trying to force something on the private sector that’s not going to be good for the companies and it is going to end up with fewer jobs in the industry,” he added.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told CNBC on Sept. 5, before the strike began, that support for electric vehicles meant Biden was “deciding corporate policy.” He also said that UAW and the auto manufacturers should deal with labor negotiations on their own, without the government weighing in.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley blamed the strike on Biden’s support for unionization.
“When you have a president that’s constantly saying, ‘Go union, go union,’ this is what you get. The unions get emboldened, and then they start asking for things that companies have a tough time doing,” Haley told Fox News in a Sept. 16 interview. Haley also argued that the unions should have settled for a 20% raise offered by the auto manufacturers.
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott argued that union workers should be fired for going on strike.
“I think Ronald Reagan gave us a great example when federal employees decided they were going to strike. He said, ‘You strike, you’re fired.’ Simple concept to me. To the extent that we can use that once again, absolutely,” Scott said at a Sept. 18 campaign event.
In response to his comments, the UAW filed a formal complaint against Scott with the National Labor Relations Board, and Fain tweeted, “Just another example of how the employer class abuses the working class in America, employers willfully violate labor law with little to no repercussions.”The 1935 National Labor Relations Act enshrined the right to strike in federal law. It states, “Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”