The United Auto Workers strike that stretched into its fourth day on Monday has put a spotlight on how President Biden’s electric-vehicle transition is presenting hurdles for a key labor constituency of the incumbent Democrat.
EVs are a pillar of Mr. Biden’s green energy agenda, but they require far less labor to produce and are more often made with battery components from non-union labor.
UAW President Shawn Fain, who has been critical at times of the president’s EV push, emphasized the union supports the climate-friendly shift. But he said it must be a “just transition” that doesn’t come at the expense of good-paying union jobs.
“Our tax dollars are financing a massive portion of this transition to EV,” Mr. Fain said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We believe in a green economy. We have to have clean water; we have to have clean air. Anyone that doesn’t believe global warming is happening isn’t paying attention. But this transition has to be a just transition, and a just transition means if our tax dollars are going to finance this transition, then labor can’t be left behind.”
Mr. Biden has promised to be history’s greenest and most pro-labor president. The striking autoworkers, who are demanding more pay and shorter workweeks, have proved those are difficult goals to achieve simultaneously.
Republicans have capitalized on the UAW strike against Detroit’s “Big Three” automakers — General Motors, Ford and Italian-American conglomerate Stellantis that owns Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and several European brands such as Fiat and Peugeot — as evidence that autoworkers should reject Mr. Biden’s green energy agenda.
“The autoworkers are not going to have any jobs when you come right down to it, because if you take a look at what they’re doing with electric cars, electric cars are going to be made in China,” former President Donald Trump, the leading 2024 GOP presidential candidate, said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The autoworkers are being sold down the river by their leadership.”
Notably, the UAW endorsed Mr. Biden in the 2020 election but has declined to do so yet for 2024. Mr. Fain declined to say how — or whether — Mr. Biden can win over the union’s endorsement a second time.
“Our endorsements are going to be earned. We’ve been very clear about that, no matter what politician,” Mr. Fain said in his CBS interview. “We expect action — not words.”
Mr. Biden has defended the UAW, saying in remarks at the White House last week that the EV transition “should be fair and a win-win for autoworkers and auto companies.” The president dispatched administration officials to Detroit to participate in the ongoing talks between automakers and Mr. Fain.
Mr. Biden’s tax-and-climate spending law known as the Inflation Reduction Act will pump tens of billions of dollars into EVs over the next decade through tax incentives for new battery manufacturing and purchases at the dealership. The administration is also considering forcing automakers to largely ditch gas-powered cars with a stringent proposed rule for tailpipe emissions that would require dealers’ new vehicle sales to be up to 60% EVs by 2030 and 67% EVs by 2032.
Ford, meanwhile, has warned that EVs will require 40% less labor. It’s why the UAW and autoworkers are looking to unionize domestic EV battery manufacturing, a sector of the industry dominated by China.
Climate groups and auto industry unions have historically had tense relationships between one another, despite both being core Democratic constituencies. But this time, the factions are unified as their worlds become increasingly intertwined.
“We firmly support the UAW members’ demands and believe that the success of these negotiations is of critical importance for the rights and well-being of workers and to safeguard people and the environment,” said an open letter to the Big Three automakers signed by more than 100 environmental and advocacy organizations.
BlueGreen Alliance, a group that seeks to unite labor unions and environmentalists, says it stands in solidarity with the UAW.
“These automakers have been given significant support from the federal government to build EVs here in the United States, but they are closing profitable facilities and shortchanging workers while raking in record profits,” BlueGreen Alliance Executive Director Jason Walsh said in a statement. “There is no reason that EVs cannot be made here in the U.S. by union workers who are paid family-supporting wages.”
The UAW argues that EVs should not be a scapegoat for automakers to slash pay or jobs. The union wants a 32-hour workweek, a 40% pay increase over the next four years and the elimination of a tiered employment system. Their contract with Ford, GM and Stellantis ended Friday night without a resolution to their demands, prompting a targeted strike of 13,000 employees at select plants.
Mr. Fain warns that additional waves of its 150,000 members at the three companies are prepared to go on strike, depending on how long negotiations drag on.
Detroit’s Big Three automakers have enjoyed record profits since the near collapse of the industry during the recession of 2008-09, and so have their executives. Last year, GM Chair and CEO Mary Barra made $29 million, Ford CEO Jim Farley made $21 million and Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares made $25 million.
Autoworkers can average from $18 to $32 per hour, depending on experience and position.