DETROIT/KANSAS CITY – Joe Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren joined striking UAW members on a picket line on Sunday as they compete for the support of a critical voting bloc in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Warren, D-Mass., was mobbed as soon as she arrived at General Motors’ Detroit-Hamtramck plant in Michigan, where a strike is entering a second week. Cheers and chants broke out when she joined the picket line while holding a “UAW on strike” sign.
She condemned the automaker for making “billions of dollars in profits” even as it closed U.S. plants. “GM is demonstrating that it has no loyalty to the workers of America or to the people of America, their only loyalty is to their own bottom line,” Warren said on Sunday. “If they can save a nickel by moving a job to Mexico or to Asia or to anywhere else on the planet, they will do it.”
A strong turnout by organized labor will be key for Democrats as they seek to defeat President Donald Trump in crucial swing states in the rust belt such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. These states were supposed to ensure Hillary Clinton’s victory in 2016 but all went for Trump, at least in part thanks to support from some union members, who had traditionally been solidly aligned with the Democrats.
Biden joined a group in front of a GM facility in Kansas City, Kansas. Wearing a red UAW shirt, he stood on the back of a pickup and addressed hundreds of striking workers.
“There’s been a war on labor’s house for a long, long time,” Biden said. “Corporations bought back over a trillion dollars in their own stock.”
The former vice president, who has a long history of support from labor unions during his political career, received a warm welcome from the workers, many of whom stayed to pose for pictures and get autographs after he finished speaking.
“This is simply wrong and I know it’s easy for me to stand up here and say keep at it because I’m not making the sacrifice you’re making,” he said. “I’m not in a position where I am out here and I am losing wages and I only have about 250 bucks to get me by. I’m not in that position. But I tell you, the American people, we owe you. We owe you for this effort.”
About 46,000 GM workers walked off the job Sept. 15 after their contact expired. The strikers are asking for various gains from the carmaker, including higher salaries, more jobs and a narrower pay gap between new hires and longtime employees.
The strike is the first in 12 years and could cost the carmaker about $50 million a day in earnings before interest and taxes, according to an estimate by Credit Suisse. Standard & Poor’s on Friday said GM could lose production of 45,000 vehicles, creating a cash burn of $1 billion, in the first week. The automaker may be able to make up some of that output later.
Both candidates scheduled trips to the carmaker’s plants nationwide after striking workers criticized Democratic hopefuls for being absent from the picket lines.
“This is the time that we find out who people are,” Warren told UAW workers. “We find out who stands with workers,” she added, after hugging and taking pictures with people on the ground.
“She’s here, that’s all that matters and we got her back,” said Joe Ryan, 59, who has been working at the Detroit-Hamtramck plan for 40 years. “That somebody of that caliber would be interested in coming not only to support us but walk in the picket line, that shows us that she cares about working-class people.”
Warren has brought union power to the forefront of her presidential campaign, vowing to bring in a union leader as labor secretary and promising that a union representative would be present at trade negotiations. Prior to joining the picket line, she privately met with UAW members.
Before Sunday, only two major Democratic candidates — Rep. Tim Ryan and Sen. Amy Klobuchar — had joined the GM protests. U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders will visit Detroit on Wednesday.
Ryan, whose Ohio district was battered by job losses when GM idled its Lordstown plant, has been tweeting from union halls and factories across Ohio and Michigan since Monday. Klobuchar, D-Minn., took coffee and doughnuts to striking workers at the Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant on Thursday.
Meanwhile, negotiations continued into the second week. GM has offered $7 billion of investment in eight U.S. plants and more than 5,400 additional jobs, most of which would be new hires. But the union said GM’s proposal fell short in key areas including health care, use of temporary workers and the length of time it takes for shorter-tenured members to get to top-scale pay.