Biden, Trump, Court Union Votes in Polar Opposite Michigan Visits

As negotiations continue and the UAW amps up the pressure, political foes court blue-collar votes in back-to-back visits to Detroit.

Joseph Szczesny

September 28, 2023

5 Min Read
Biden & Fain visit UAW picket line
Biden, with UAW leader Fain, visits union picket line in Michigan.Getty Images

The United Auto Workers is threatening to expand strikes against General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis even as the union picket lines at all three companies are at center stage in presidential politics as both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump visit the Detroit area.

In a move with the potential to resonate in the years to come that left Detroit automakers nonplussed, Biden donned a UAW cap and marched along striking pickets from the United Auto Workers outside General Motors warehouse as negotiations continue.

“I’ve marched a lot of UAW picket lines when I was a senator, since 1973, but I’ll tell you what: This is the first time I’ve done it as president,” Biden observes during his appearance outside General Motors’ Willow Run Redistribution Center in Belleville, MI, minutes away from Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

“The fact of the matter is that you guys, the UAW, you saved the automobile industry back in made a lot of sacrifices. You gave up a lot. And the companies were in trouble. Now they’re doing incredibly well and guess what? You should be doing incredibly well.”

The move left Biden’s likely foe in next year’s election, former President Donald Trump, declaring he made plans to visit Detroit to point up the flaws in the current administration’s plans to promote electric vehicles, which he maintains will wipe out their jobs.TrumpatDrakeGetty.jpg


Trump appeared Wednesday at a rally at Drake Enterprises, a second-tier supplier based in politically sensitive Macomb County, MI. The anti-union National Right to Work Committee helped organize Trump’s appearance at the non-union plant, according to the UAW, in a state very likely to be a key battleground in the 2024 election.

“Electric cars don't go far enough and they're far, far too expensive,” Trump says during his appearance at Drake Enterprises, adding EVs represent an assault on jobs of auto workers. But Trump also asks for the UAW’s formal endorsement of the union’s leadership.

Nathan Stemple, the president of Drake Enterprises, which makes drivelines, told Fox News, his company would be “out of business” if electric-vehicle market share expanded. He also says his company will feel the pinch if the strike continues. 

Biden does not mention EVs in his brief appearance on the picket line outside Detroit Tuesday, which some commentators described as a reversal of President Ronald Reagan’s decision in 1981 to fire striking air traffic controllers. Biden was accompanied by UAW President Shawn Fain, who had invited him and anyone else who supported the UAW strike to picket with union members. 

In response to the Presidential visit, GM says in a statement, “Our focus is not on politics but continues to be on bargaining in good faith the UAW leadership to reach an agreement as quickly as possible that rewards our workforce but allows GM to succeed and thrive in the future.

“We have presented five record economic proposals that address the areas our team members have said matter most: wage increases and job security,” GM notes. “We value our workforce and understand the impact a strike has on our employees, communities and the economy – nobody wins.”

Stellantis also insists it is moving forward with the negotiations: “On the first day of the strike, President Biden said UAW workers ‘deserve a contract that sustains them and the middle class.’ We agree and presented a record offer.

“Here are the facts: 21.4% compounded wage increase including a 10% increase at ratification, $1 Billion in retirement security benefits, inflation protection measure, job security and more.

“Unlike the non-unionized transplants and EV startups who comprise the majority of the U.S. market, Stellantis relies on the collaboration between management and labor to ensure that our company remains competitive and, therefore, sustainable. But it also requires a balanced agreement that fairly rewards our workforce for their contribution to our success, without significantly disadvantaging Stellantis against our non-union competitors,” the automaker adds.

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Ford, which has inched closer to an agreement with the union, says, in a slightly different key, “Ford and the UAW are going to be the ones to solve this by finding creative solutions to tough issues together at the bargaining table. We have shared interest in the long-term viability of the domestic auto industry, the industrial Midwest manufacturing jobs in the U.S.,” a Ford spokesman tells Wards.

Fain, who has kept the automakers off balance with a combination of selective strikes, cable television appearances and combative public commentary pointing out the rise in executive compensation and expansive stock buybacks, says he was pleased Biden decided to picket with UAW members.

“Thank you, Mr. President, for coming to stand up with us in our generation-defining moment,” says Fain, who described the fight as “war” against “corporate greed,” and to save the working class.

“We do the heavy lifting. We do the real work,” Fain says. “We build the products, we make, the coffee at Starbucks and we do the teaching in our schools, not the CEOs,” Fain says.

Fain says the need to compensate for the corporate greed justifies the union demands for a 40% wage increase, a shorter 32-hour work week, the end of the tiered wage structure and the restoration of traditional contract provisions for cost-of-living adjustments and defined-benefit pensions. The UAW says Fain is preparing to expand the strike if there is no progress by Friday morning.

Fain says Trump has done nothing to help autoworkers, adding the former president blamed the union for the industry’s bankruptcy in 2008, urged automakers to move to non-union locations in 2015 and did nothing to block the shutdown on the GM plant in Lordstown, OH, when he was president in 2019.

Financial analysts, among them Steve Rattner, the former hedge fund executive put in charge of the auto bailout in 2009, says Detroit’s automakers are in position to offer a generous wage but cannot meet the union’s other demands without going bankrupt.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk seems to agree.

“They want a 40% pay raise and a 32-hour work week,” Musk wrote in a post on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter that he purchased last year. “Sure way to drive GM, Ford and Chrysler bankrupt in the fast lane.”

Deepwater Asset Management Managing Partner Gene Munster wrote earlier in the month. “It will give Tesla more room to keep prices low, which should result in negative EV margins for the Big Three for the next two-plus years.”



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