How does the UAW strike affect auto industry and President Biden?

Sep 18, 2023, 7:30 PM

UAW strike...

File - A member holds up a sign at a rally by United Auto Workers Local 863 in Louisville, Ky., on Aug. 24, 2023. As the UAW strike continues, Seth Harris, who served as President Biden's top labor policy advisor, tells KSL NewsRadio what he knows. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

(AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley, File)

SALT LAKE CITY — President Biden has been pursuing a clean energy transition. At the center of that transition is electric vehicles. But a critical constituency of the president is feeling left behind as the 2023 United Auto Workers (UAW) strike continues.

The strike and the auto industry

Seth Harris from Northeastern University, who served as President Biden’s top labor policy advisor, tells KSL NewsRadio the strike is affecting the direction of the future of the auto industry.

“It’s not largely about electric vehicles, although that’s obviously looming large over the negotiations [between United Auto Workers (UAW) and auto companies],” Harris said. “The heart of the negotiation is the union effort to undo decades of concessions that the union has made to help the car companies survive tough times and to become profitable.”

Harris said now that auto companies have become profitable, the union wants to reclaim those concessions.

“We (UAW) want temporary workers to become permanent, part time workers to become full time,” he said. “We want cost of living adjustments and we want a significant pay increase matching what the CEOs got. They also want job security.”

UAW wants to undo the direction that the auto industry has been moving in. On the other side, auto companies, according to Harris, want to keep things the way they are.

To really get the negotiation process moving, Harris said the “two-tiered employment system” is one key issue that must be addressed.

“In the auto industry, workers who were hired after 2007 get paid less. They get benefits that are not as rich and their hours are significantly longer,” he said. “The union very much wants to eliminate a system that treats workers differently based on when they happen to be hired. Now, they will have a seniority system in place, but they don’t want to have a two tiered system.”

How does the UAW strike affect the Biden Administration?

Harris said President Biden has been a supporter of auto companies giving more to UAW members.

“The president from the very beginning has made clear that he wants his economic strategy to be focused on creating good union jobs,” Harris said. “He views it as … rebuilding the American middle class as he likes to say, ‘building from the bottom up in the middle out.'”

Despite showing his support, Harris said Biden has not said specifically how auto companies can support UAW members.

UAW members are more frustrated with the auto companies than they are with the president, according to Harris. However, he pinpoints the transition from gas to electric vehicles as a point of uncertainty between Biden and workers who are on strike.

 “They (UAW members) are worried about that. Change can be a dangerous thing. Particularly when people really want stability and have good quality jobs that they want to keep,” Harris said.

However, Harris said, Biden is leaning in support of the workers who are on strike.

“I think that’s his brand and it really is his beliefs,” he said.

Related: Beyond the automakers: How the UAW strike may hit the US economy

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How does the UAW strike affect auto industry and President Biden?