United Auto Workers from Louisville Kentucky rally in support of striking UAW members, in Detroit, Michigan, September 15, 2023.
Rebecca Cook | Reuters
President Joe Biden is expected to visit a picket line Tuesday in the Great Lake State following a public invitation Friday from UAW President Shawn Fain. Former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner among Republicans in the 2024 presidential race, is scheduled to hold a rally Wednesday night at an auto supplier in Clinton Township, Michigan.
Biden and Trump are effectively tied in the polls over a year out from the election. Each 2024 presidential candidate is trying to win over blue-collar voters such as Darius Collier, one of roughly 18,300 autoworkers currently on strike who’s “indifferent” about the candidates themselves.
“It would be good if they actually show the support that we need to get through this,” said Collier, whose Mopar facility in Centerline, Michigan, is one of 10 parts and distribution centers set for potential closure under a recent contract proposal by Stellantis to consolidate facilities.
Michigan voters helped both Biden and Trump in winning the White House during the past two presidential elections in 2020 and 2016, respectively. They’ve both gained union support, but in different ways.
UAW members Niko Shinn (front) and Darius Coller (back) walk a picket line on Sept. 25, 2023 outside a Mopar facility owned by automaker Stellantis in Centerline. Michigan.
Michael Wayland / CNBC
While the UAW has historically supported Democrats, including Biden in 2020, Fain is withholding the union’s reendorsement of the president, who has touted himself as the “most pro-union president in American history.” Trump has won support of many rank-and-file union members.
“Both President Trump and President Biden understand the importance that Michigan has electorally and there’s a realization that elections can be very close, so they want to be seen frequently, and the UAW strike is a wonderful, high-publicity moment to deploy their message and be seen once again,” said Mark Burton, a partner at Honigan law firm and a former of chief strategist of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat.
Michigan Democrats such as Whitmer and U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell have attended UAW rallies since the UAW’s Sept. 15 strikes began. However, Fain’s politician of choice has been Sen. Bernie Sanders, who ran against Biden in 2020.
Fain has appeared with the independent senator from Vermont in Washington, D.C., and during a recent UAW rally in Detroit. He also has echoed Sanders’ messages of fighting “corporate greed” and has positioned the UAW’s collective bargaining with the Detroit automakers as a “war” between the billionaire and blue-collar classes.
Fain invited Biden to join the UAW picket lines days after Trump announced he would skip the second GOP debate to hold a rally in Macomb County, Michigan, where a large contingent of blue-collar auto workers live.
“We invite and encourage everyone who supports our cause to join us on the picket line from our friends and families all the way up to the president of the United States,” Fain said Friday during a Facebook Live stream.
Fain has not expressed much support for Biden, many times saying he needs to better prove his claim of being the “most pro-union president.” However, Fain’s made clear his position on Trump.
“Every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers,” Fain said last week in a statement. “We can’t keep electing billionaires and millionaires that don’t have any understanding what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to get by and expecting them to solve the problems of the working class.”
The UAW on Tuesday issued a largely generic press release ahead of Biden’s visit, saying it will “mark the first time a sitting U.S. President has joined striking workers on a picket line,” followed by several paragraphs about the union’s strike and no statement from Fain.
UAW is not affiliated with Trump’s Wednesday rally at Drake Enterprises, which is reportedly a non-union supplier of engine, transmission and other components for heavy truck, agriculture and automotive markets. But UAW members have previously attended and participated in Trump’s events in Michigan.
Fain has previously said a second Trump term in the White House would be a “disaster.” However, Trump, as he has in the past, is gaining blue-collar support.
“I like Trump,” said Niko Shinn, another autoworker who’s currently on strike at the Mopar plant. “He’s a good businessman and seems like he knows more about, not politics, but negotiating and stuff like that.”
Trump’s support among union members has increased as Biden’s fallen in recent months, according to Michigan polling company EPIC·MRA. Trump led Biden 46% to 43% among union members in an August survey, after Biden led Trump 51 % to 42% in June, according to Bernie Porn, president of EPIC·MRA.
“With union members, he has been so supportive of just about everything that union members want. The one thing that they’re concerned about is the push towards electric vehicles because they’re concerned about the fewer numbers of employees it takes to build an electric vehicle,” Porn said.
Electric vehicles, or EVs, are expected to require less labor and parts than the traditional vehicles equipped with internal combustion engines. They are expected to be one of several talking points Trump discusses during his Wednesday rally.
“President Trump’s rhetoric in his position stances, I think, stands clearly with the vast majority of the rank-and-file of the UAW who are concerned about their jobs being eliminated by this Biden administration forced transition to electric vehicles,” said Jamie Roe, a Republican strategist based in Macomb County, Michigan, where Trump’s rally is being held.
Fain has said the union is withholding a reelection endorsement for Biden until the union’s concerns about the auto industry’s transition to all-electric vehicles are addressed.
Biden’s visit may be an olive branch to assist in the UAW’s eventual endorsement as well as potential leverage for the union in its ongoing negotiations with the Detroit automakers.
“I think the president’s visit, particularly if Shawn Fain is joining [Biden] on a picket line, I think it is another stroke of strategy that increases the pressure and increases the overall strength of the union when it comes to the actual negotiations with the autos,” Burton said.