Biden addresses UAW concerns amid EV transition

“I support a fair transition to a clean energy future,” President Joe Biden said in a statement timed exactly a month before the United Auto Workers contract with Detroit automakers is set to expire Sept. 14. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

President Joe Biden dipped a toe into the contract talks between automakers and the UAW on Monday, reaffirming his support for electric vehicle jobs as a path to the middle class while urging the companies to address the union’s concerns over the transition.

“I support a fair transition to a clean energy future,” Biden said in a statement timed exactly a month before the United Auto Workers contract with Detroit automakers is set to expire Sept. 14.

He went on to list things that are key union priorities, including honoring the right to organize unions, providing jobs “that can support a family,” and ensuring that industry “transitions are fair and look to retool, reboot, and rehire in the same factories and communities at comparable wages, while giving existing workers the first shot to fill those jobs.”

The talks pose a delicate balance for Biden and Democrats between their priorities of transitioning the nation to electric vehicles and courting support of the UAW, which has expressed anxiety about a range of economic concerns, including federally subsidized work going to non-union battery plants.

In separate statements, both the union and General Motors welcomed Biden’s comments, while stressing different aspects.

UAW President Shawn Fain said the union agreed “with the president that the Big Three’s joint venture battery plants should have the same strong pay and safety standards that generations of UAW members have fought for.”

Biden’s statement didn’t directly address the joint battery plants by name.

Meanwhile, GM issued a statement saying the company agrees “it is critical for all sides to work together on a fair labor contract — a contract that provides job security, supports good wages and benefits for our team members while enabling companies to compete successfully domestically and globally.”

The union has yet to make a presidential endorsement, despite a flood of other labor support for Biden.

A senior administration official told POLITICO last week the UAW has no expectation Biden would discuss specific demands but that the union would like to see the president’s support of their perspective in the transition to a clean energy economy.

“Companies should use this process to make sure they enlist their workers in the next chapter of the industry by offering them good paying jobs and a say in the future of their workplace,” Biden said in his statement, referring to the transition away from fossil fuels.

The UAW’s economic demands, released publicly this month, specifically ask for protections in the case of plant closures, as well as major pay raises.

The union has also said it wants workers at jointly owned battery plants, key in the EV transition, to be brought up to comparable wage and safety standards as union workers. A recent letter from Senate Democrats suggested the automakers include those facilities in national contracts; the UAW hasn’t explicitly made that demand.

Tanya Snyder contributed to this report.

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