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UAW leader warns of strike after Biden suggested he wasn't worried about talks failing: 'It's looking that way'

Asked whether he's worried about a United Auto Workers strike, the president told reporters on Labor Day: "No, I’m not worried about a strike until it happens."
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The leader of the United Auto Workers union pushed back against President Joe Biden’s remarks this week dismissing the possibility of a strike against Detroit automakers as contract negotiations remain at a stalemate.

In an interview Thursday on MSNBC's “Morning Joe,” UAW President Shawn Fain was asked to respond to Biden’s remarks on Labor Day when he was asked whether 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 intention 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 day one that we don’t intend to do things that way.”

Fain stressed that the union plans to bargain with all three Detroit automakers — General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis — until contracts for about 150,000 autoworkers expire next Thursday. Fain said the union hopes to have an agreement by then, but he warned that "there will be action" if an agreement isn’t reached in that time.

“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 he asked whether Biden will get the union's endorsement again, Fain said it is standing by withholding an endorsement for now. Fain has said Biden would need to address concerns about the auto industry’s transition to all-electric vehicles, including concerns about 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.”

United Auto Workers members and supporters march during a Labor Day parade in Detroit on Sept. 4, 2023.
UAW members and supporters march at a Labor Day parade Monday in Detroit.Jeff Kowalsky / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Fain said of Biden, who has vowed to be the most pro-union president, that “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 reiterated 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’s 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 requests for comment.

In response to Fain’s remarks, the Trump campaign released a statement saying Trump vows to call for a repeal of Biden’s electric vehicle mandate if he is elected.

“Joe Biden’s Electric Vehicle mandate will murder the U.S. auto industry and kill countless union autoworker jobs forever," the campaign 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."

The campaign also touted the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which Trump signed in 2020 to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, which governed trade between the U.S. and its neighbors since 1994. The statement said the deal “imposed tough auto rules-of-origin to defend American workers.”

General Motors said in a statement Thursday that 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 those in a 2019 agreement, it said.

Fain called the offer "insulting" 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," the statement said.

A spokesperson for Stellantis said Thursday that discussions between the company and the 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 Thursday, Ford pointed to a news release that said nearly 8,000 of its employees represented by the 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 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.”

Bryce Currie, Ford’s vice president of manufacturing, said in the release, “These pay raises are an example of Ford’s commitment to improving the lives of our hourly workforce.” He added that the company is "offering further improvements in the next contract.”

Fain’s told The Detroit News this week that he was “shocked” by Biden’s assertion that an auto strike is unlikely.

“He must know something we don’t know,” Fain said Monday, according to the 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 on CNBC’s “Last Call” with Brian Sullivan. “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.”