Sep 27, 2023
UAW President Discusses Biden Joining picket Line and Union’s Demands from Automakers Transcript
UAW President Shawn Fain talks about about Biden’s visit and the union’s demands. Read the transcript here.
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In a first for a sitting president, President Biden joined a picket line in Michigan to show support to striking members of the United Auto Workers Union. It’s the second week of strikes against Detroit’s Big Three automakers, GM, Ford, and Stellantis. Joining me now is UAW President Shawn Fain. Mr. Fain, welcome to the NewsHour. It was a remarkable scene to see President Biden out there on the picket line today. You’ve previously said this isn’t about any president current or former. You seem to want to keep politics out of it. So why host President Biden at the picket line today?
Shawn Fain (00:33):
I think the workers encouraged this. I mean, this is the workers’ fight and it’s a just fight. I mean, I believe this is a working class thing. It’s not just about the UAW, it’s about workers all over this country. We put an invitation out there for people to join us, and the White House responded right away, and it was great to see that, and we’ve never seen it before in the history of this nation. So it obviously shows that for a sitting president for the first time in our history to visit a picket line, I think that goes a long way in showing where he stands with working class people.
Speaker 1 (01:11):
Did the president and conversations with you offer any additional help in your negotiations? Did you ask him for any?
Shawn Fain (01:18):
No. Look, the negotiations are up to our National Negotiating Committee as our vice presidents and our team, and we’ve got that handled. Naturally, the president’s just asking how things are going and keeping updates and just checking in to see how things are progressing.
Speaker 1 (01:37):
As you know, former President Trump is going to be visiting Michigan tomorrow, and he, as you also likely know, has been attacking you. He’s saying that the UAW leadership is not protecting its members. He’s been saying the push to electric vehicles means fewer union jobs ahead that you’re not protecting. Do you share this concern though, that he’s articulating, that we know some of your members have about the future of electric vehicles, meaning fewer union jobs ahead?
Shawn Fain (02:04):
Well, it depends on where we go as a nation, but we support a green economy. We have to have an earth that we can live on that’s sustainable for life, but it has to be a just transition. And that’s what part of this fight is about, is our tax dollars are helping finance this transition, and these companies are taking the billions of dollars in our tax dollars, but they’re trying to drive a race to the bottom by paying substandard wages and benefits, and we don’t stand for that. So we’re pushing very hard for these jobs to have our standards in them so people can live off of it. And so that’s what this fight’s about and that’s what a just transition is to us. So, but as it stands right now, it has to change because as it stands, we don’t have a piece of a lot of that work, especially the battery work. So we’re fighting to get it.
Speaker 1 (02:57):
Let me ask you about some of the things you are asking for, and I want to put to you what Steven Rattner wrote. As you know, he served as President Obama’s auto Czar essentially, he helped negotiate that 2008 deal in amid the financial crisis. And he says, “Yes, absolutely. Auto workers deserve a pay raise, but they’re not going to get it. Automakers aren’t going to meet your demands.” He says, “Because they can’t, or if they do,” he wrote recently in the New York Times, “the workers are likely to pay the ultimate price.” His argument is essentially that manufacturing, unlike services, can basically offset higher labor costs by just shifting their work elsewhere. So can the Big Three compete if they have to pay labor costs at two or three times what Toyota and Honda and Kia are paying?
Shawn Fain (03:40):
Well, this comes down to two words, corporate greed. And I don’t know where Rattner’s been living for the last 20 or 30 years, but in the last 20 years, we’ve made massive concessions. Everything’s been done on the backs of our workers, and these companies in the Big Three have still shut down 65 plants. So that math doesn’t add up. In the last decade, these companies have made a quarter of a trillion dollars. The last six months, they made $21 billion. That’s on the backs of our workers. The price of vehicles went up 35% in the last four years. CEO pay went up 40% in the last four years, and our wages went backwards, but no one cried a river when the CEOs are giving themselves 40% increases and the companies were making record profits. That’s the problem here. We got to stop the fear tactics and putting this fear out there that if workers ever demand anything or they get their fair share, it’s going to be the end of the world. It’s just not true.
Speaker 1 (04:33):
Is there any long-term concern you have though? If labor costs do go up in a union shop with these Big Three, that does mean they are paying higher labor costs than non-unionized shops that are largely operating across the south now. Do you have a long-term concern about the ability for them to continue competing and then employing more union workers?
Shawn Fain (04:53):
We have a long-term concern for the working class in general, and the workers that work in non-union shops are making a lot less than we do. So I know they’re scraping to get by. This isn’t just our fight. This is a fight for the working class, no matter what works some people do. And the goal here is we set the new standard and we organize those places. That’s how the UAW was built. It was born out of a depression in the worst of times. Workers saw a better way of life. They joined unions, they joined the UAW, and they won economic and social justice. It was life-changing. That’s what created the American dream. And the American dream has been dead in this country for years at the expense of the corporate class and the billionaire class and the corporate greed taking everything. So that’s what we have to change in this country.
Speaker 1 (05:38):
Mr. Fain, you’ve got 150,000 workers in the UAW. Given where things are today in negotiations, how much wider do you see this strike going and when do you plan to make that next decision?
Shawn Fain (05:50):
It’s going to be up to the companies. If they continue to drag their feet, then we’re going to amp up the pressure, so it’s- [inaudible 00:05:57]
Speaker 1 (05:57):
Well, if I may, the strike widening seems to be up to you and your members. So do you have a date set for when you plan to make a decision about how much wider it may go?
Shawn Fain (06:05):
It will just depend on how bargaining progresses in the next few days. And as things progress or don’t progress, then we’ll make those decisions.
Speaker 1 (06:15):
The strike is now in day 12, is this the kind of thing you and your members are prepared to see go for weeks or months if necessary?
Shawn Fain (06:23):
We’re prepared to do whatever we have to do to win economic and social justice, so there’s not a timetable. We don’t want to be out here. The company’s wasted seven weeks of bargaining as they have in the past. They waited until the last week to get serious about talking. We told them at the outset, we’ve been there every day. We expected to bargain early and get these agreements done by the deadline. They chose not to do that. They chose to drag it out, so they’ve chose to put our workers in the street. So we’ll see how things play out.
Speaker 1 (06:53):
Mr. Fain, on that same point, if there is an extended strike, there are some economists warning it could have broader ripple effects for sure in the communities where many of your workers live, but also across the broader economy, small impact but meaningful. Are you worried about that?
Shawn Fain (07:09):
What I’m worried about is how the economy’s impacted by people scraping to get by paycheck to paycheck. When workers get pay increases, when workers have more money and they have more job security, it’s great for the economy. That’s what drives the economy. A billionaire or a CEO getting another $10 million on their already bloated salaries, doesn’t move the economy. When they buy a third million dollar home somewhere else, that doesn’t move the economy. What moves the economy is the majority of the working class people having more money in their pockets, so they have purchasing power. That’s what drives the economy.
Speaker 1 (07:41):
That is the President of the United Auto Workers Union, Shawn Fain joining us tonight. Mr. Fain, thank you for joining us. Please come back soon.
Shawn Fain (07:49):