The United Automobile Workers union endorsed President Biden on Wednesday, providing an influential boost as he faces a battle against former President Donald J. Trump to win the support of labor groups.
Mr. Biden, who calls himself “the most pro-union president in history,” delighted striking UAW workers but angered auto industry executives when he appeared on a picket line with workers last fall. On Wednesday, he appeared before a national conference of auto workers to tell them he was proud to have done it.
“Let me tell you something I learned a long time ago,” Mr. Biden said. “If I’m going to fight, I want to fight with you, the UAW.”
In earlier remarks, Shawn Fain, the UAW president, told the crowd that Mr. Biden has a proven track record of helping the working class organize for higher wages, better retirement benefits and health care.
“This election is about who will support us and who will stand in our way,” Mr. Fain said after a lengthy speech comparing Mr. Biden’s past pro-union speeches with Mr. Trump’s lack of support and his appearances at non-union facilities. He called Mr. Trump a “yellow” — shorthand for someone who undermines the power of a union, for example by replacing a striker.
“Our support must be earned, and Joe Biden has earned it,” Fain said.
The value of the endorsement, which the UAW postponed last year due to concerns about Mr. Biden’s commitment to promoting union jobs in electric vehicle manufacturing, may lie less in persuading members to support Mr. Biden as motivation to vote. The union has estimated that only about 30% of its members supported Mr. Trump in 2016. But without the union’s formal support and investments in turnout, Mr. Biden could suffer a decline in the number of members who show up to vote in critical states like Michigan.
“Elections aren’t just about picking your best friend for the job or the candidate that makes you feel good,” Fain said. “Elections are about power. »
With Mr. Trump all but locked up the nomination following his performance in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, Biden campaign officials said the race between the two candidates has all but begun.
On stage, Mr. Biden focused on highlighting positives in the economy, including a strong job market, falling gasoline prices and increased consumer optimism. He also compared his record to that of his predecessor, saying Mr. Trump is “the only president, other than Herbert Hoover, to lose his job while president.”
Mr. Fain, a vocal critic of Mr. Trump, did not mince his words. He recalled the 2008 financial crisis, highlighting Mr. Trump’s anti-union rhetoric at the time and as a 2015 presidential candidate. He then recalled Mr. Biden’s comments, as vice president, that “the nation bet on America’s auto workers and won.”
At that point, attendees shouted obscenities about Mr. Trump. “I love the energy,” Mr. Fain replied.
After the event, Mr. Fain told reporters that the UAW board of directors unanimously approved the endorsement. He said Mr. Biden’s economic message was reaching rank-and-file members, but added that the union “should do better” to combat what he called misinformation about Mr. Biden.
However, Mr. Fain had made the president work to obtain his approval.
Mr. Biden has appeared at several UAW events to demonstrate his bona fides to the group’s leadership and base. In September, Mr. Biden grabbed a megaphone and joined striking auto workers in Michigan, becoming the first sitting president to join a picket line in an extraordinary show of support for workers demanding better salaries. When the contract was won, Mr. Biden wore a red T-shirt and appeared in front of Illinois workers.
Union officials often say that Mr. Biden has been more vocal than any president in decades in supporting the labor movement. He appeared in a video as Amazon workers in Alabama sought to unionize, warning that “there should be no intimidation, no coercion, no threats, no anti-union propaganda.” He also criticized Kellogg for his plan to permanently replace the strikers. (The strike was resolved before the company took this action.)
The UAW was early to support Mr. Biden’s green energy policies, but was frustrated by the lack of support for union jobs in the auto industry in the Inflation Reduction Act, the main climate bill which the president signed in 2022.
Mr. Fain also had expressed his frustration that the Biden administration had given Ford a $9 billion government loan to build three electric vehicle battery factories in Tennessee and Kentucky, without any commitment from the company to create high-speed union jobs there. salary.
It takes fewer workers to assemble an electric vehicle than to build one with an internal combustion engine. To offset these assembly job losses, the UAW wants to organize factories that make batteries and other electric vehicle parts being built to take advantage of tax incentives included in Mr. Biden’s climate legislation. They are also pushing to expand unionization to electric vehicle makers who have long resisted it.
Mr. Biden’s decision to demonstrate on the picket line in Michigan angered auto industry executives, according to officials in his administration, who said the president was nonetheless determined to make his position clear in the labor conflict.
Seeing an opening with the UAW’s base, and even its leaders, Mr. Trump then played a role for approval, campaigning against Mr. Biden’s “ridiculous Green New Deal crusade.” A day after Mr. Biden joined the UAW picket line, Mr. Trump rallied at a non-union auto parts plant in Michigan, vying for support from blue-collar workers.
Mr. Fain had long made clear that his leaders would never support the former president, but supporting Mr. Biden remained politically complicated. In addition to the substantial portion of its membership that is likely to favor Mr. Trump, the UAW also includes a liberal bloc that is skeptical of Mr. Biden. Many liberal members are graduate students and academic researchers who have criticized the president for his support of Israel during its war in Gaza. The union itself called for a ceasefire.
During the event, several demonstrators waving Palestinian flags were dragged out by security officials as the president continued to speak, the second time in as many days that a Biden campaign event was interrupted by people protesting against the Israeli campaign against Hamas in Gaza. Workers chanted “UAW” to drown out their cries.