President Biden visited a Stellantis plant in Illinois Thursday to tout the deal United Auto Workers (UAW) union negotiators made with the Big Three automakers, ending a months-long strike.
“To the members of the UAW, you’re as tough, tough, tough as they come,” Biden said, wearing a red union t-shirt he was handed ahead of taking the lectern.
“Wall Street didn’t build America, unions built America,” Biden went on. “And unions built the middle class. That was true in the 20th century and it’s still true today—and Americans know it. That’s why unions are more popular today than they’ve been in decades.”
The UAW’s strike began at midnight September 15 when contract agreements to cover the union’s 145,000 members could not be reached, leading to the first-ever nationwide UAW strike being called simultaneously at all of the Big Three automakers in Detroit.
The first wave of the walkout included some 13,000 UAW members at three plants: General Motors in Wentzville, Missouri; Ford in Wayne, Michigan; and Stellanits in Toledo, Ohio.
Biden visited a Stellantis assembly plant in Belvidere, Illinois on Thursday that was shuttered earlier this year, months before the UAW went on strike, kicking 1,300 workers off the job. It’s now reopening and welcoming the workers back following the union’s deal with the automaker.
“I grew up in neighborhoods where I know what it’s like when a plant closes down,” Biden told the assembled workers. “When they shut down, people lost their sense of pride. Neighborhoods were in real trouble. People would wonder whether they were going to stick around, what was going to happen to their families. It’s a big, big deal. So this opening in Belvedere again is a giant deal as far as I’m concerned.”
As part of the deal with Stellantis, starting wages will increase to more than $30 an hour.
The Stellantis contract was reported to be similar to the initial deal the UAW made with Ford, that included n immediate 11% wage increase upon ratification of the agreement, which also includes 25% in base wage increases through April 2028. It further includes a more-than 30% raise in the current top wage of $32.32 an hour; the new top wage will exceed $40 an hour.
That deal also includes improvements for current retirees, workers with pensions and workers who have 401(k) plans. And in a first for the UAW, the Ford deal includes a right to strike over plant closures.
The UAW reportedly struck a similar deal with General Motors. In early October the UAW also struck a deal with GM to bring all of the automaker’s electric vehicle (EV) battery plants under a national master agreement.
On Thursday Biden told Stellantis workers, “With this UAW contract, you’ll be treated fairly. You’ll get a fair share of what you produce. And you’ll get the dignity and respect you deserve right here at home.”
Biden, who calls himself the most union-friendly President in U.S. history, became the first President to join a picket line. On September 26 he joined striking UAW workers in Wayne, Michigan.
At the time, UAW President Shawn Fain, who was set to meet with Biden during Thursday’s visit to Illinois, noted that Biden “chose to stand up with our workers for economic and social justice,” though the UAW has still not endorsed Biden or anyone else in the 2024 Presidential election.