(WASHINGTON) — President Joe Biden called for unionization across the auto industry and embraced the broader labor movement in an address to members of the United Auto Workers at a car plant in Illinois on Thursday.
Biden, who wore a red T-shirt emblazoned with the UAW logo, hailed the union workers for carrying out a 46-day strike against the automakers that ended with tentative deals last month.
“These deals are game-changers not only for UAW workers but for all workers in America,” said Biden, who in September became the first U.S. president to join workers on a picket line when he visited a UAW protest in Michigan.
“I want to thank you for your commitment to solidarity,” he told the workers on Thursday. “You’re changing the face of the country economically.”
The tentative deals, which must be ratified by union members at each of the respective carmakers, resolved an at-times contentious work stoppage that thrust UAW President Shawn Fain into the national spotlight and drew overwhelming support in public polls.
Tentative agreements struck with Ford, Stellantis and GM each called for a roughly 25% raise over four years, as well as significant improvements on pensions and the right to protest the closure of plants.
The event arrives roughly a year before the 2024 presidential election, which polls suggest is likely to be a repeat of the 2020 contest between Biden and former President Donald Trump.
The economy and inflation are top issues for Americans, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll released on Sunday.
Republicans are more likely to be trusted to do a better job on these two issues, according to the poll: Americans trust Republicans to do a better job handling the economy over Democrats (35%-25%). On inflation, they trust Republicans to do a better job (35%-21%).
As part of its tentative contract ending the strike, Stellantis agreed to reopen the assembly plant in Belvidere, where Biden spoke on Thursday.
Roughly 1,300 workers at the plant lost their jobs when the factory idled in February. Ultimately, the deal to reopen the plant could create 3,000 jobs in Belvidere.
During contract negotiations, Biden said he called Stellantis officials to emphasize the importance of the Belvidere facility. “I got on the phone and let them know personally,” the president said.
Biden commended Fain for his leadership throughout the six-week strike. “Shawn, you’ve done one hell of a job, pal,” Biden said.
“When I called Shawn to congratulate him on this historic deal with the Big 3 automakers, he told me the credit goes to the workers,” Biden added. “It doesn’t hurt to have a leader with a backbone like a ramrod.”
Speaking on Thursday before Biden’s remarks, Fain shared his embrace. He praised Biden for the role his administration played in negotiations between the union and the carmakers. Fain and Biden met privately before speaking at the rally.
“I’m honored to be here today with the president of the United States,” Fain said on Thursday. “I’m grateful for the work shown by the White House throughout this fight.”
“This is a team effort,” Fain added. “They went to work with us and the companies.”
Biden sought to focus on the economy with the friendly crowd at the auto plant but faced a protester at the outset of the remarks who called on the White House to back a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.
In recent days, Biden has urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to impose a three-day humanitarian pause but has declined to back a cease-fire. Israel agreed to daily four-hour pauses in the fighting, the White House said on Thursday.
“President Biden, you need to call for a cease-fire in Gaza,” a crowd member yelled.
A chorus of boos rose up from the audience in response to the protest, but Biden called on the crowd to remain calm. “Let her go,” he said. “It’s OK.”
Chants from the crowd then drowned out the protest. “We love Joe,” they said. “We love Joe.”
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