President Joe Biden, who prides himself on his support for unions, has little say in whether major autoworkers strike and for how long, with competing policy objectives and a lack of jurisdiction being his main obstacles.
The United Auto Workers (UAW) laid out their plan for a targeted strike on Wednesday, after negotiations with the Big Three automakers — Ford, Stellantis and General Motors — have yet to produce a new contract for their 150,000 unionized workers, with the current contract expiring Thursday. Biden’s commitment to increasing domestic electric vehicle manufacturing runs contrary to union goals to maintain job security, while the president also lacks the legal authority to step in like he was able to do in last year’s rail negotiations.
“He’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t,” Kate Bronfenbrenner, director of labor education and research at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, told Bloomberg. “If he gets involved and it doesn’t help, then he’ll get blamed for the strikes. If he doesn’t get involved and the strike goes on and on, he’ll be blamed for not getting involved.”
Biden has made his support for unions a central point of his campaign and policy, pledging to be “the most pro-union president you’ve ever seen” the night before the 2020 election. The president has pushed legislation like the Protecting the Rights to Organize Act, which would enable easier union organization and minimize employee choice in unionization, and launched a committee in April 2021 to investigate how to increase union membership.
— UAW (@UAW) September 13, 2023
The UAW has also expressed reservations over Biden’s push for electric vehicles, believing that they are not as high quality as the current unionized autoworker jobs, presenting a political challenge of balancing the union’s desires with his climate goals, according to Bloomberg. The union has yet to endorse Biden in his 2024 presidential campaign.
The Biden administration cannot step in to prevent a strike as it did in negotiations between four rail unions and rail companies in December 2022, after Congress used its special authority over railroad labor to force contracts on unionized workers. The new contracts were absent of key demands like paid sick leave and other “quality of life” requests.
The rail industry is under the jurisdiction of the Railway Labor Act, enacted in 1926, which regulates labor relations in the industry and enables Congress to force contracts on rail workers. The auto industry is not covered under the same type of regulations, meaning Biden lacks the power to intervene forcefully as he has in the past.
The White House and the UAW did not immediately respond to a request to comment from the Daily Caller New Foundation.
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