Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
We celebrate Black History Month!

Biden will make a historic trip to autoworkers on the picket line in Detroit

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Biden heads to Detroit today to support striking autoworkers.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Biden has called himself the most pro-union president in history, but his administration is also trying to work with car companies on climate goals and other priorities. So how is he going to walk that line?

INSKEEP: And is he going to walk on a picket line? Let's ask NPR political correspondent Don Gonyea, who joins us from his home in Detroit. Hey there, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's the president doing so far as you know?

GONYEA: We don't know exactly what the drill will be. We do know he will be on the picket line. We know that much. But there are a lot of questions. Will he march with a placard? Will it be more of a meet and greet with workers filing past him? We do know that UAW President Shawn Fain will be there. He invited Biden to come. And I'll just add he did so despite the fact that the UAW has not yet endorsed Biden for reelection. Just yesterday at the White House, Biden was asked about the trip. Here's his answer.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: I think the UAW gave up an incredible amount back when the automobile industry was going under. They gave everything from their pensions on. And I think that now that industry is roaring back, they should participate in the benefit of that.

INSKEEP: I just want to know, Don - I looked this up. President of the United States is not a union job. It'd be a very small union if it was a union job. Is it rare for a president to stand on a picket line?

GONYEA: Careful listeners may know I've been covering the UAW for a long time, right?

INSKEEP: (Laughter) I'm a careful listener. Yes, I do know. Go on.

GONYEA: I've not seen anything like this. I've seen presidential candidates - candidates - greeting striking workers. I've toured factories with candidates. I've gone to union halls and picket lines with senators. But we can't find any record of a U.S. president visiting a picket line, talking to striking workers there. So that alone makes this a big moment - right? - for the UAW and for all unions, really. Picket lines are hugely symbolic. It means something to have a president actually show up.

INSKEEP: Is he really involved in the negotiations, though?

GONYEA: He has kept open lines of communication with the auto companies, according to the White House. But this is the job of the negotiators, not the president, to find a deal. It's a balancing act. He wants unions to get good contracts, but he also wants these companies to be able to lead the world in electric vehicle production. So that's a big challenge.

INSKEEP: There's also a partisan contrast here because Donald Trump is going to be heading to Michigan before long. And I want to ask about that, Don. I've been reading this book by David Leonhardt called "Ours Was The Shining Future." It's like a history of the American middle class in the 20th century. And it talks about the 1930s, when there was a president and Congress who supported and fostered the union movement. There was a big autoworkers strike that was a big part of that. So that's my question now. If Biden is pro-union, as he says, has he been able to actively make the environment easier for unions?

GONYEA: Those were the 1936, '37 sit-down strikes in Flint, Mich., a seminal moment for labor. Roosevelt was a huge help back then to the UAW. Biden has changed the environment for unions. The NLRB, the National Labor Relations Board, is much friendlier to unions. Biden also supports something called the PRO Act, which is called Protect the Right to Organize. That's big for labor. And Republicans in the past always support so-called right-to-work laws in states. Biden has opposed them. So he has indeed been a friend, if not perfect.

INSKEEP: NPR's Don Gonyea, thanks so much.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: Good talking with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.