Biden weighs in on UAW, Detroit automaker contract negotiations with suggested demands

Jamie L. LaReau
Detroit Free Press

President Joe Biden is urging the UAW and the Detroit Three automakers to reach a fair contract that will offer job security and pay wages to support the middle class as the carmakers transition to an electric vehicle future.

The president's comments come days after the UAW President Shawn Fain publicly criticized Stellantis North America's proposal for a new contract, calling it "trash." Stellantis COO Mark Stewart reacted by saying he was “incredibly disappointed" by Fain's behavior.

In Biden's statement Monday, he reminded the union, which represents about 150,000 autoworkers, and the Detroit automakers how the middle class built America and "unions built the middle class." But the nation needs to move to a "clean energy" economy and such a transition should offer an opportunity for both sides to win, he said.

Chevrolet Bolt EV sits on display before U.S. President Joe Biden speaks at the grand opening of General Motor's Detroit-Hamtramck EV Factory Zero on Nov. 17, 2021.  The president added $7.5 billion to create new electric vehicle charging stations as part of his infrastructure package recently passed by Congress and signed into law on Monday.

"It should enable workers to make good wages and benefits to support their families, while leading us into a future where America is leading the way in reducing vehicle emissions and producing autos that will successfully compete domestically and globally," Biden said in a statement. "Companies should use this process to make sure they enlist their workers in the next chapter of the industry by offering them good paying jobs and a say in the future of their workplace."

Biden said he was putting forth the statement now because negotiations are one month out from the expiration of the current contract on Sept. 14. The talks and the lead-up to them have been marked by assertive comments from the union and predictions from numerous industry watchers of a strike.

Wage win:GM confirms future wage hike for UAW members, but other demands 'threaten' company health

Biden's suggestions on what a contract should include

"I want to be clear about where I stand," Biden said. "I’m asking all sides to work together to forge a fair agreement. I support a fair transition to a clean energy future."

Biden outlined what he would like to see result from the negotiations:

  • The auto companies ensure that Detroit Three auto jobs can support a family.
  • The auto companies honor the right to organize.
  • The auto companies take every possible step to avoid plant closings.
  • The auto companies ensure that when transitions are needed, the transitions are fair and "look to retool, reboot, and rehire in the same factories and communities at comparable wages, while giving existing workers the first shot to fill those jobs."

"The UAW helped create the American middle class and as we move forward in this transition to new technologies, the UAW deserves a contract that sustains the middle class," Biden said. 

In a statement following Biden's remarks Monday, Fain said the UAW appreciates Biden's support.

"We agree with the president that the Big Three’s joint venture battery plants should have the same strong pay and safety standards that generations of UAW members have fought for," Fain said. "As the president said, the UAW helped build the middle class and we are fighting for contracts that will bring prosperity back to working-class communities that have been struggling for far too long."

He said the Detroit Three have made "a quarter trillion dollars" in North America profits in the last decade and "another $21 billion in total profits in the first half of this year. With the president’s support, we know those profits can be invested in collective bargaining agreements that lift up autoworkers, our families and our communities.”  

UAW President Shawn Fain hosts a Facebook live briefing for members on Tuesday, August 8, 2023 to say Stellantis is playing games and not negotiating in good faith during contact talks.

Stellantis reacts to Biden's statement

Stellantis — which sells Jeep, Ram, Chrysler, Dodge and Fiat brand cars — along with Ford Motor Co. and General Motors all started negotiations with the UAW last month.

Stewart, in a letter to employees Friday posted on a company website focused on negotiations, suggested that Fain’s approach was counterproductive.

“The theatrics and personal insults will not help us reach an agreement that continues our proud history of providing good wages and benefits to our employees and maintaining Stellantis’ ability to be competitive in the market. These negotiations are critical and require cool heads and a focus on reality from everyone involved,” the letter said.

After Biden's comments Monday, Stellantis said it remains committed to "working constructively and collaboratively with the UAW to negotiate 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."

GM has signaled a wage raise, but not much else

In a statement Monday afternoon following Biden's comments, GM spokesman David Barnas said GM agrees that it is critical for all sides to work together on a fair labor contract that provides job security, good wages and benefits, "while enabling companies to compete successfully domestically and globally. We will continue to bargain in good faith with the UAW to maintain our momentum and to provide opportunities for all in our EV future.”

As the Detroit Free Press, a part of the USA Today Network, first reported last month, GM will offer a wage increase for its 50,000 hourly workers in the new contract. GM is not as ready to return cost-of-living adjustment benefits, which is a raise to keep up with inflation.

Earlier this month, GM issued a statement confirming a wage increase, but reacted to Fain's other demands such as a 32-hour work week, additional paid time off, and more by saying, "The breadth and scope of the Presidential Demands, at face value, would threaten our ability to do what’s right for the long-term benefit of the team. A fair agreement rewards our employees and also enables GM to maintain our momentum now and into the future."

In a statement Monday Ford spokesperson Kelli Felker said, "Ford is proud to build more vehicles in America and employ more UAW-represented hourly workers in America than any other automaker. We look forward to working with the UAW on creative solutions during this time when our dramatically changing industry needs a skilled and competitive workforce more than ever.”

More:High prices for new cars slowing, discounts rising for most

Contact Jamie L. LaReau: Follow her on Twitter @jlareauan. Read more on General Motors and sign up for our autos newsletterBecome a subscriber.