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President Heads to Picket Line in Michigan to Court Autoworkers

President Heads to Picket Line in Michigan to Court Autoworkers


Katie Rogers

Credit…Associated Press

He has promised to be “the most pro-union president leading the most pro-union administration in American history,” but like other occupants of the Oval Office, President Biden has at times run afoul of labor groups.

In December, he signed legislation that imposed an agreement between rail companies and workers who had been locked in a bitter dispute. The bill averted a strike that could have upended the economy just before the holiday season, but it also curbed the efforts of workers and advocates who were fighting for provisions such as guaranteed time off and paid sick leave.

Presidents are typically expected to be neutral arbiters between striking laborers and the companies they work for. On Monday, however, Mr. Biden told reporters that he firmly stood with the United Automobile Workers, which is calling for increased wages, shorter work hours and expanded benefits from three Detroit automakers: General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, the parent of Jeep and Ram trucks.

Other modern presidents have found it difficult to find a middle ground between employers and employees.

In 1952, President Harry S. Truman tried to avert a strike of the United Steelworkers of America by nationalizing the steel industry, only to be met with a lawsuit from steel companies.

Ten years later, President John F. Kennedy signed an executive order that gave federal employees the right to collectively bargain, but he warned flight engineers and pilots against striking that same year, telling them that it would be too damaging to the economy.

In 1981, President Reagan fired over 11,000 striking air traffic controllers, undermining a union effort by arguing that federal workers were in violation of an employment oath not to strike against the government. The decision traumatized the labor movement for decades.


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