President Joe Biden on Tuesday joined a picket line with striking autoworkers in Michigan, backing their call for a 40% pay raise and telling them they deserve a “lot more” than they are getting.
Biden’s appearance, the first visit by a U.S. president to striking workers in modern history, comes a day before Donald Trump, the Republican front-runner for president, will speak to auto workers in Michigan. The rare back-to-back events highlight the importance of union support in the 2024 presidential election, even though unions represent a tiny fraction of U.S. workers.
Democrat Biden traveled to a Belleville, Michigan, parts distribution centre owned by General Motors (GM.N), and joined dozens of picketers outside. “Companies were in trouble, now they’re doing incredibly well. And guess what? You should be doing incredibly well, too,” Biden said through a bullhorn. “Stick with it.”
He was referring to a 2009 government bailout of U.S. automakers that included wage cuts. “You deserve what you’ve earned. And you’ve earned a helluva lot more than what you’re getting paid now,” he said.
Asked if he supported the 40% increase the union had asked for, Biden said simply, “Yes.”
Flanked by Secret Service agents, Biden exchanged fist bumps and took selfies with the crowd after he spoke as the John Mellencamp song “Small Town” played in the background.
Trump will address hundreds of workers at a gathering at an auto supplier in a Detroit suburb on Wednesday. The supplier, Drake Enterprises, is a nonunion manufacturer, according to a spokesman at the AFL-CIO. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Republicans believe Biden’s push to electrify America’s vehicle fleet, by pumping billions of dollars of tax rebates into EV manufacturing, is unpopular with auto workers.
In a statement on Tuesday, Trump accused Biden of “stabbing” autoworkers in the back. Biden’s EV mandate, he said, will “annihilate” the U.S. auto industry and cost “thousands of autoworkers their jobs.”
UAW President Shawn Fain greeted Biden at the airport and handed the president a black UAW baseball cap. He also joined Biden at the picket line.
Calling Biden’s visit a “historic moment in time,” Fain accused CEOs of taking the profits and leaving workers to “fight for scraps.” “Thank you Mr. President for coming to stand up with us,” Fain said. “We know the president will do right by the working class.”
The UAW also encouraged non-UAW workers to join local picket lines in support of the “historic” presidential visit. The union is not involved with Trump’s visit and Fain does not plan to attend that event, a source added.