President Joe Biden said Thursday he wants all U.S. autoworkers to get labor deals like the one the United Auto Workers union reached with the Detroit Three automakers after a more than six-week strike.
"I want this type of contract for all auto workers, and I have a feeling the UAW has a plan for that," Biden said. He said Toyota Motor "had no choice" but to raise wages for U.S. hourly workers because of the UAW deal.
Biden praised gains for workers in the deals the UAW won, spoke about how his economic policies, dubbed "Bidenomics," are working and highlight plans to reopen an auto factory that Stellantis wanted to close, according to the White House.
He was also scheduled to meet with other UAW members, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and attend a political fundraiser.
In response to Biden's remarks, Toyota said it wants to "foster positive morale" and boost productivity in its workforce. "The decision to unionize is ultimately made by our team members," the Japanese automaker said in a statement.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the remark by Biden, who has backed UAW efforts in other speeches.
Fain previously said the union would seek to organize the nonunion workforces in the U.S. plants of foreign carmakers. Union leaders have signaled Toyota could be one of the first to face those efforts, especially at its sprawling Georgetown, Kentucky, plant.
The UAW has tried and failed for years to organize nonunion U.S. auto factories, most of them built by Asian and European legacy automakers in southern U.S. states where so-called right to work labor laws make it optional for workers to pay union dues.
In September, Biden joined a picket line with striking UAW workers in Michigan, where he also met Fain. The appearance was the first by a U.S. president with striking workers in modern history and showed the importance of union support in the 2024 presidential election, even though unions represent only about 10% of U.S. workers.
Biden's comments may renew friction between the U.S. president and Tesla CEO Elon Musk, as the UAW seeks to organize Tesla workers.
Musk and Biden sparred in recent years, and in 2021 Musk said Biden's electric-vehicle policy appeared to be controlled by labor unions. Biden first publicly acknowledged Tesla's EV production in February 2022, after Musk repeatedly complained about being ignored by the president.
Recently, the UAW tried and failed to win enough support from workers at Tesla’s Fremont, California, factory to hold an organizing vote. The plant was a UAW shop when it was jointly owned by GM and Toyota and known as NUMMI.
The UAW filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board over a 2018 Musk tweet in which he asked "why pay union dues & give up stock options for nothing." The NLRB ruled the tweet violated laws prohibiting management threats against workers for supporting unionization.
Thursday's appearance will once again allow Biden to showcase his pro-union credentials to the UAW, which has yet to endorse Biden, making the union one of the major holdouts as other labor organizations have backed the Democratic president.
In September, UAW's Fain ruled out meeting former Republican President Donald Trump, casting him as an out-of-touch billionaire, who does not have "any bit of care about what our workers stand for, what the working class stands for."
Labor leaders and Democratic officials said an endorsement from the UAW for Biden is expected after the union's members approve their tentative contract agreements, which dramatically raises pay for auto workers and ended a strike targeting General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, the maker of Jeep, Dodge and Ram vehicles.
The relationship between Biden and Fain "didn't start as cozy as it is now," said Mark Burton, a partner at the law firm of Honigman and a former chief strategist of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat.
But Biden taking on a "more supportive but silent role" during the UAW negotiations improved the relationship, Burton said, adding that Biden "has formed a good working relationship with Shawn Fain and I think the near-term result will be an endorsement."
© 2024 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.