Biden Offers Input on UAW and Detroit Auto Manufacturer Contract Discussions, Proposing Specific Requirements

President Joe Biden is urging for a just agreement to be achieved between the UAW and the major Detroit automakers, ensuring stable employment and equitable wages that bolster the middle class during the industry’s shift towards an electric vehicle-driven future.

The president’s remarks follow closely on the heels of UAW President Shawn Fain’s public critique of Stellantis North America’s proposed contract, denouncing it as inadequate. Stellantis COO Mark Stewart responded, expressing profound disappointment in Fain’s stance.

In his address on Monday, President Biden conveyed a reminder to the union, which represents approximately 150,000 automotive workers, as well as the Detroit automakers, emphasizing that the middle class laid the foundation of the nation and “unions constructed the middle class.” While acknowledging the imperative to transition to a “clean energy” economy, he asserted that this transformation should provide an opportunity for mutual gains between the two parties.

“In order to ensure the prosperity of workers and their families, it is essential that this agreement guarantees competitive wages and comprehensive benefits. Simultaneously, it should drive our nation towards a future where the United States takes the lead in reducing vehicle emissions and manufacturing automobiles that assert their dominance both domestically and on the global stage,” Biden emphasized in an official declaration. “Companies are presented with an opportunity to engage their workforce in shaping the forthcoming era of the industry, by not only offering well-paying positions but also by including them in discussions about the trajectory of their workplace.”

Biden’s announcement arrives at this juncture due to negotiations looming just one month before the current contract expires on September 14. The buildup to these negotiations has been characterized by resolute statements from the labor union and a flurry of forecasts from numerous industry observers predicting the potential for a labor strike.

Biden’s Proposed Inclusions for a Contract

“I want to firmly establish my position,” stated Biden, adding, “I urge all parties to collaborate towards crafting a just accord. I endorse a balanced transition into a future defined by clean energy.”

Biden delineated his aspirations for the outcomes of the ongoing negotiations:

Automobile companies must guarantee that positions within the Detroit Three auto industry can sustain families.
Automobile companies must uphold the right to unionize.
Automobile companies should take every conceivable measure to avert plant closures.
Automobile companies must ensure that during transitions, the process is equitable and entails “retooling, rejuvenation, and reemployment within the same facilities and communities, with comparable compensation, while prioritizing existing employees for these vacancies.”
“The UAW played a pivotal role in shaping the American middle class, and as we progress through this transition to novel technologies, the UAW merits a contract that upholds the middle class,” emphasized Biden.

In a response issued subsequent to Biden’s declaration on Monday, Fain conveyed the UAW’s gratitude for Biden’s endorsement.

“We share the president’s view that the joint venture battery facilities of the Big Three should adhere to the same robust standards for wages and safety that generations of UAW members have championed,” Fain remarked. “Just as the president articulated, the UAW was instrumental in establishing the middle class, and we are persistently advocating for contracts that will reinvigorate working-class communities, which have grappled with adversity for an extended period.”

Fain noted that the Detroit Three have amassed “a quarter of a trillion dollars” in profits within North America over the past decade, coupled with “an additional $21 billion in cumulative profits during the initial half of this year. With the president’s endorsement, we are confident these profits can be channeled into collective bargaining agreements that elevate autoworkers, their families, and the communities they reside in.”

Stellantis Responds to President Biden’s Remarks

Stellantis, recognized for its brands including Jeep, Ram, Chrysler, Dodge, and Fiat, has initiated negotiations with the UAW in conjunction with other industry giants like Ford Motor Co. and General Motors during the preceding month.

Mark Stewart, in a communiqué addressed to employees and released on the company’s official website, concentrated on the ongoing negotiations, indicating that Fain’s confrontational approach might be counterproductive.

“Theatrics and personal affronts will not facilitate our progress towards a consensus that upholds our longstanding tradition of providing competitive wages and comprehensive benefits to our workforce while sustaining Stellantis’ capacity to remain competitive within the market. These negotiations are of paramount importance and necessitate a composed and pragmatic approach from all parties involved,” the letter conveyed.

Following President Biden’s remarks on Monday, Stellantis reiterated its commitment to “fostering a productive and cooperative dialogue with the UAW, aimed at crafting a fresh accord that harmonizes the well-being of our 43,000 employees with our vision for the future. This vision aims to position the company optimally to address the challenges inherent in the U.S. market, thereby ensuring the future prosperity of our workforce, their families, and our enterprise as a whole.”

GM’s Response Indicates Wage Increase, Yet Minimal Changes

Following President Biden’s pronouncement on Monday, GM spokesperson David Barnas issued a statement affirming the necessity of concerted efforts from all stakeholders to forge a balanced labor agreement that ensures job security, equitable compensation, and comprehensive benefits. The statement also underlined the significance of maintaining a competitive edge both domestically and on the global stage. Barnas stressed GM’s commitment to ongoing negotiations with the UAW, guided by good faith, to uphold the company’s forward momentum and extend opportunities within the context of an evolving EV future.

As reported earlier by the Detroit Free Press, a component of the USA Today Network, GM has conveyed its intent to elevate wages for its 50,000 hourly employees under the prospective contract. Nevertheless, GM has shown less readiness to reinstate cost-of-living adjustment benefits, which serve as a raise to align with inflation.

Earlier this month, GM acknowledged a forthcoming wage increase while addressing UAW President Fain’s other stipulations, encompassing a 32-hour workweek, additional compensated time off, and more. The company expressed reservations, noting that “the comprehensive scope of the Presidential Demands, upon initial assessment, could potentially compromise our ability to make decisions in the long-term best interest of the team. An equitable agreement should both acknowledge our employees’ contributions and empower GM to sustain its progress now and in the years ahead.”

In a corresponding statement on Monday, Ford spokesperson Kelli Felker remarked, “Ford takes pride in its increased American production and its employment of a higher number of UAW-represented hourly employees than any other automaker. We eagerly anticipate collaborating with the UAW to devise innovative solutions during this transformative period for our industry, wherein a skilled and competitive workforce is of paramount importance.”