On Tuesday, President Joe Biden encountered a lukewarm reception from the striking autoworkers in the Detroit vicinity, with many voicing apprehensions regarding his endorsement of electric vehicles. Casey Rutner, a Ford truck assembler, said he had mixed feelings about Biden being here today. Rutner expressed his yearning for job security, not only for himself but also for his son, who he envisioned working at Ford. However, with the shift towards electric vehicles, his certainty wavers.
Rutner belongs to the United Auto Workers, which initiated the nation’s most significant strike in recent decades earlier this month. The union urges the “Big Three” automakers—Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis, the manufacturer of Chryslers—to increase wages and benefits, especially in light of the increased production of electric vehicles. According to Ford CEO James Farley, the auto industry fears job losses as electric vehicle manufacturing requires 40% fewer workers.
The union members’ resistance to electric vehicle production has created a rift with Biden, who frequently claims to be the “most pro-union president” historically. Biden has lauded General Motors head Mary Barra for accelerating electric vehicle production, and his Democratic cohorts in Congress have since 2021 sanctioned tens of billions in tax reliefs and subsidies to stimulate demand and production for electric vehicles.
For some union members, Biden’s 12-minute picket line appearance barely compensates for his electric vehicle advocacy. Jason Richards, a forklift operator at a Ford facility, believes he hasn’t genuinely demonstrated anything. He’s furnishing corporations with substantial incentives to transition towards electric vehicles, threatening UAW member’s employment. “Electric vehicles necessitate significantly fewer individuals for manufacturing compared to gasoline-powered vehicles.”
On Tuesday, President Biden became the first sitting president to join a picket line, a detail that was heavily promoted by the White House ahead of the visit. However, his stint at the picket line outside a General Motors depot in Van Buren Township was fleeting. During his address, Biden advocated for salary increases and reminisced about his former union activism.
“I marched a lot of UAW picket lines when I was a senator since 1973,” Biden used a megaphone to shout. “But I tell you what, first time I’ve ever done it as president.” Some union members reproached Biden for attempting to garner political mileage by aligning with workers a day ahead of ex-president Donald Trump’s scheduled picket line visit.
Prior to the White House disclosing Biden’s visit, Trump divulged his plan to forgo the second Republican presidential debate to journey to Detroit. Tamika Ellis, an assembly line worker at Ford, said Biden’s visit was a little late. Ellis is amenable to the electric vehicle shift, provided their jobs remain secure. The continuation of the electric vehicle transition at the current pace is uncertain.
Consumer grievances regarding insufficient charging infrastructure have cast skepticism on the viability of a predominantly electric vehicle fleet, as have congressional probes into Chinese affiliations with American facilities producing electric vehicle batteries. With surveys indicating Biden lagging behind Trump for 2024, the White House aims to bolster support for the president among pivotal voter groups, including union members. However, the United Auto Workers, which supported Biden in 2020, has so far abstained from endorsing his reelection bid. Shawn Fain, the president of United Auto Workers, expressed concerns about the transition to electric vehicles during his meeting with Biden on Tuesday.