Aug 15, 2023 - Energy & Environment

Biden's tricky foray into auto contract talks

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

High-stakes contract talks between the United Auto Workers and Detroit's Big 3 automakers are a tricky test of Democratic coalition politics as the EV transition marches ahead.

Driving the news: President Biden yesterday urged the Ford, GM and Stellantis to avoid plant closures as part of a wider statement on the talks.

  • He added that "when transitions are needed, the transitions are fair and look to retool, reboot, and rehire in the same factories and communities at comparable wages."

The intrigue: Biden's statement came the same day climate groups, including big players like the Sierra Club, released an open letter to auto CEOs backing UAW.

  • The groups' goals include ensuring workers at battery plants — a growing investment area for automakers — have the same pay and safety standards as car factories.

State of play: As White House policies look to juice EV production, the contract talks come amid surging corporate profits and plant closures, Axios Detroit's Joe Guillen reports.

  • Workers want 40% raises. Detroit automakers want more flexibility to compete with Tesla, Toyota and other EV makers that don't pay union wages.

Catch up fast: UAW President Shawn Fain has been very public about concerns the EV transition will leave union workers behind.

  • Meanwhile former president Donald Trump is aggressively courting autoworkers' votes by alleging EVs will undercut them.

Quick take: The talks and the UAW's EV concerns are politically dicey.

  • Biden's campaign is keen to win labor votes in swing states, while green groups want to avoid hurting deployment of climate-friendly tech.

What's next: The current UAW contract with automakers expires Sept. 14.

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