Biden Seeks to Mend Union Ties in Labor Day Trip to Philadelphia

President Joe Biden is seeking to court union workers on Labor Day, part of a White House bid to shore up ties with a key part of his electoral coalition and sell his economic policies to skeptical voters.

(Bloomberg) — President Joe Biden is seeking to court union workers on Labor Day, part of a White House bid to shore up ties with a key part of his electoral coalition and sell his economic policies to skeptical voters.

Biden will speak at the Annual Tri-State Labor Day Parade in Philadelphia on Monday, according to a White House official, a trip that will take him to his birth state and a crucial 2024 battleground critical to his reelection hopes.

Biden has regularly touted himself as the most pro-union president in history and won the support of multiple labor leaders, but has struggled to make his message resonate with organized labor’s rank-and-file. Blue collar workers are worried about lingering inflation and signs of a softening labor market. 

US consumer confidence fell by more than forecast last month. August jobs data painted a mixed picture, with payrolls rising more than forecast but wage growth slowing and a higher unemployment rate. 

Earlier: US Jobs Report Signals Smooth Downshift in Labor Market

The president has spent the summer traveling the country to pitch his economic agenda of Bidenomics, highlighting a surge in factory construction, steady job growth and wage gains that have lifted chances for the economy to make a soft landing even as the Federal Reserve keeps interest rates historically high. 

That messaging blitz though has failed to lift his approval ratings and the public’s poor marks for his handling of the economy. 

Ahead of Monday’s event, Biden published an op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel arguing that his policies were working across the US.

“More working-age Americans are employed than at any time in the past 20 years. Inflation is near its lowest point in over two years. Wages and job satisfaction are up,” Biden wrote.

Biden’s oft-cited “bottom up, middle out” approach to building the economy by increasing wages for lower-income workers has helped him win the backing of the AFL-CIO coalition and 17 other unions. But one powerful union, the United Auto Workers, which endorsed him in 2020 has yet to back his reelection bid. 

The UAW is locked in contentions contract negotiations with Detroit’s legacy automakers, a dispute union President Shawn Fain has called a “war.”

The UAW’s 150,000 members are threatening a strike on General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis NV, maker of the Jeep and Chrysler brands, if a deal is not reached by a Sept. 14 deadline. The union is proposing a 46% raise, traditional pensions, and a 32-hour work week — demands which have rankled automakers.

The UAW’s campaign has run up against the administration’s push to transition the US to electric vehicles, with union leaders worrying that thousands of workers in EV battery plants for the big automakers aren’t union-protected. 

Fain met with Biden at the White House in July to update them on negotiations. Publicly, he has said Democrats need to do more to support the UAW’s fight for higher wages.

Biden has called for the sides to reach a “fair” transition to EVs and expressed concern about the prospects of a strike.

In recent months, Biden has avoided labor disputes that threatened to upend supply chains, with contracts at West Coast ports, for freight-rail workers, and an agreement between United Parcel Service Inc. and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

The talks involving the UAW are the most contentious yet and the tensions between the union and Biden have created an opening for former President Donald Trump, the 2024 Republican primary frontrunner.

“Auto workers are getting totally ripped off,” Trump said in a video posted Aug. 30 on his Truth Social account about Biden’s push to electric vehicles. “There’s no such thing as ‘fair transition’ that destroys over 100,000 auto manufacturing jobs — it’ll be much more than that,” he said. Trump has urged the union to back him instead of Biden.

Monday’s event takes Biden back to friendly ground. Philadelphia is a blue stronghold where turning out Democratic voters will be critical to carrying Pennsylvania, a state he won narrowly in 2020. 

The president held a major rally there in June, shortly after launching his reelection bid.

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