US President Joe Biden has thrown his support behind striking workers engaged in a wage dispute with three of the country’s largest car manufacturers. Nearly 13,000 employees at General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis plants walked off the job on Friday as labour negotiations hit an impasse.
In his remarks, President Biden expressed empathy for the workers’ frustration and stated that while nobody wished for a strike, workers deserved a fair share. He urged the companies to go further in their offers to ensure that record corporate profits translated into record contracts for employees.
The strike, which affected all three major automakers simultaneously, is an unprecedented event in union history. The United Auto Workers union (UAW), representing over 140,000 workers, has demanded a 40% pay increase over the four-year contract, among other requests, which is significantly higher than the approximately 20% increase proposed by the companies.
The union has justified its demands by highlighting the substantial compensation packages received by company executives, each exceeding $20 million last year. Currently, full-time plant workers earn hourly wages of around $32, depending on seniority, in addition to bonuses and other benefits, while temporary workers, a category the union seeks to reduce, earn less.
The dispute has the potential to result in higher car prices and significant disruptions for the automotive giants, particularly as they invest billions in transitioning to electric vehicle production.
The companies argue that the union’s demands are excessive at a time when they are already making substantial investments in electric vehicle technology to ensure their long-term viability. General Motors CEO Mary Barra stressed the need to ensure the company’s success for the next century while expressing a willingness to negotiate and resolve differences.
This labour dispute serves as a crucial test for President Biden, who has positioned himself as a pro-union leader but faces the challenge of addressing inflation concerns and securing organised labour support for his re-election campaign next year. His administration is sending top advisers, including Labour Secretary Julie Su, to assist in negotiations.
The strike, initially affecting GM, Stellantis, and Ford plants in Missouri, Ohio, and Michigan, has generated significant activity at union offices, with workers signing up for picket duties and displaying signs of solidarity.