President Biden made an unprecedented stop Tuesday, joining the picket line with striking autoworkers and marking the first time a sitting president has done so.
The president stood in solidarity with United Auto Workers (UAW) at a General Motors facility in Belleville, Mich., and spoke to the group via bullhorn alongside union President Shawn Fain.
“Wall Street didn’t build the country. The middle class built the country. Unions built the middle class,” Biden, wearing a baseball cap and quarter-zip sweater, told the striking workers.
“Let’s keep going; you deserve what you’ve earned, and you deserve a hell of a lot more than what you’re getting paid now,” Biden said to cheers from the group.
He stood with workers at UAW Local 174 wearing red shirts and holding signs that read “UAW on strike” and “saving the American dream.”
“You guys, UAW, you saved the automobile industry back in 2008 and before,” he said. “You made a lot of sacrifices, 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 too” he said.
“Stick with it because you deserve the significant raise you need and other benefits,” he added. “Let’s get back what we lost, OK?”
Negotiations between the UAW union and Ford, Stellantis and General Motors have been focused on pay increases, pensions and career security. Workers also have concerns about electric vehicles (EVs) and how a shift toward them could affect jobs and pay.
When a reporter asked Tuesday if union members deserved their requested 40 percent pay raise, workers standing around Biden in Michigan shouted “yes.” Then Biden also responded “yes.”
The president has maintained that he supports workers during negotiations with the three major auto companies. But he had previously stopped short of saying he supports the 40 percent pay increase and 32-hour work week workers are asking for.
Biden announced his decision to go to Michigan hours after Fain said the union would expand its strike to include Stellantis and GM parts distribution facilities at 38 locations across 28 states.
Fain, as well as Garlin Gilchrist II, Michigan’s lieutenant governor, and Democratic Michigan Reps. Debbie Dingell, Shri Thanedar and Rashida Tlaib greeted Biden at the airport.
“This is really a historic event, historic day what the president is going to be doing,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on the ride to Michigan.
Former President Trump is visiting Michigan Wednesday to speak with workers, and the dueling events show the significance of Michigan and the union vote in 2024. Biden won Michigan in 2020 after Trump won the state in 2016.
The UAW hasn’t endorsed Biden yet, arguing in May that it has concerns over the White House’s focus EVs. The union said, however, that it wouldn’t endorse Trump.
Reporters asked Biden on Tuesday what it would take to get that endorsement.
“I’m not worried about that,” Biden said.
—Updated at 1:43 p.m.