Two of President Joe Biden ‘s top goals — fighting climate change and expanding the middle class by supporting unions — are colliding in the key battleground state of Michigan as the United Auto Workers go on strike against the country’s biggest car companies.
The strike involves 13,000 workers so far, less than one-tenth of the union’s total membership, but it’s a sharp test of Biden’s ability to hold together an expansive and discordant political coalition while running for reelection.
Biden is trying to turbocharge the market for electric vehicles to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prevent China from solidifying its grip on a growing industry. His signature legislation, known as the Inflation Reduction Act, includes billions of dollars in incentives to get more clean cars on the roads.
Some in the UAW fear the transition will cost jobs because electric vehicles require fewer people to assemble. Although there will be new opportunities in the production of high-capacity batteries, there’s no guarantee that those factories will be unionized and they’re often being planned in states more hostile to organized labor.
“The president is in a really tough position,” said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “What he needs to be the most pro-labor president ever and the greenest president ever is a magic wand.”
The union is demanding steep raises and better benefits, and it’s escalating the pressure with its targeted strike. Brittany Eason, who has worked for 11 years at the Ford Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan, said workers are worried that they’ll “be pushed out by computers and electric vehicles.”
“How do you expect people to work with ease if they’re in fear of losing their jobs?” said Eason, who planned to walk the picket line this weekend. Electric vehicles may be inevitable, she said, but changes need to be made “so everybody can feel secure about their jobs, their homes and everything else.”
Biden on Friday acknowledged the tension in remarks from the White House, saying the transition to clean energy “should be fair and a win-win for autoworkers and auto companies.”
He dispatched top aides to Detroit to help push negotiations along, and he prodded management to make more generous offers to the union, saying “they should go further to ensure record corporate profits mean record contracts.”
As part of its…