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Biden gives pep talk about unions, with UAW strike possible next week

By Victor Reklaitis

It has been a summer of strikes in the U.S.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday praised a deal between unionized dockworkers and their employers that prevented a strike at West Coast ports, even as the spotlight has shifted to the United Auto Workers union, which could strike when its contract with Detroit's Big Three automakers ends Sept. 14.

In a speech at the White House, Biden described the agreement that was finalized last week between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and terminal operators, along with other companies, as "a big deal for management, for labor, as well as for the United States of America." He also hailed the deal reached in July between package-delivery giant UPS (UPS) and the Teamsters union that averted a strike.

"To invest in American workers, who are the backbone of the country, makes sense to me. The labor contracts we celebrate today prove that," the president said.

From MarketWatch's archives (June 2023):West Coast dockworkers and employers reach tentative deal, allaying shipping-delay concerns

Ahead of Biden's remarks, a White House official said the labor deal affecting ports "represented a prime example of Bidenomics at work, reflecting workers empowered and bargaining together for the wages, benefits and quality of life they deserve, and company owners recognizing those unions' right to organize."

It has been a summer of strikes in the U.S., with a joint strike by Hollywood actors and screenwriters getting much of the attention.

Read more:What striking city workers have in common with striking Hollywood actors -- and what they don't

Biden has played down the potential of a UAW strike, which could cost the three automakers -- Ford (F), General Motors (GM) and Chrysler parent Stellantis (STLAM.MI) -- nearly a billion dollars, according to an Anderson Economic Group estimate.

"No, I'm not worried about a strike until it happens. I don't think it's going to happen," the president told reporters on Monday, which was Labor Day. He steered clear of mentioning the UAW in his remarks on Wednesday.

The UAW's demands include the restoration of traditional defined-benefit pensions for new hires, an end to tiers of wages and a 32-hour week for 40 hours of pay.

When asked about the possible UAW strike on Wednesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters that Biden is "going to continue to encourage parties to negotiate in good faith towards an agreement that prevents any kind of shutdown."

See:Why United Auto Workers union is fighting to end a two-tier system for wages and benefits

Also:United Auto Workers accuses GM, Stellantis of refusing to bargain in good faith

Biden has repeatedly described himself as "the most pro-union president," but he drew flak from organized labor and its supporters in December when he signed into law a bill that averted a railroad strike by imposing a deal on workers.

"Biden cannot make that mistake again," said the Revolving Door Project, which aims to counter industry influence on the federal government, in a newsletter on Wednesday. "If unapologetic support for unions and pro-labor administrative actions are the centerpiece of his campaign, Biden can galvanize the working and middle classes to back him in the polls next fall."

The presidential race in 2024 could be a rematch of 2020's contest between Biden and former President Donald Trump, who has won over some union households that historically have backed Democrats like Biden rather than Republicans.

Biden got more support than Trump from union households in the battleground states of Michigan and Wisconsin in 2020, but Trump got more support from such households in Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to Edison Research exit polls.

Now read: Government shutdown could hurt Republicans' chances in 2024 election, analysts say

-Victor Reklaitis

This content was created by MarketWatch, which is operated by Dow Jones & Co. MarketWatch is published independently from Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal.


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09-06-23 1534ET

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