White House officials not going to Detroit for auto talks

United Auto Workers (UAW) members on a picket line outside the Ford Motor Co. Michigan Assembly plant in Wayne, Michigan, US, on Friday, Sept. 15, 2023. 

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The Biden administration is no longer sending two key officials to Detroit this week to potentially help broker a deal between striking autoworkers and the Big Three car companies, a White House official told NBC News.

President Joe Biden last week said he would dispatch White House senior advisor Gene Sperling and acting Labor Secretary Julie Su to support discussions between the companies and the United Auto Workers union.

But the White House and the UAW union mutually agreed it would be better to speak virtually via Zoom, the official said Tuesday.

Sperling and Su could still go to Detroit next week, but there are no firm plans for them to do so, the official said.

“We’ll continue to assess travel timing based on the active state of negotiations,” the White House official said.

Biden largely sided with the striking autoworkers in an address on Friday. The president called on Ford, General Motors and Stellantis to share record profits with their workers.

Despite that, Biden has received a relatively cold reception from the UAW.

The union’s president, Shawn Fain, told MSNBC on Monday that he does not see a major role for the White House in resolving the dispute.

“This battle is not about the president,” Fain said. “It’s not about the former president or any other person prior to that. This battle is about the workers standing up for economic and social justice and getting their fair share because they’re fed up with going backwards.”

Nearly 13,000 UAW members are on strike at three key plants in Michigan, Missouri and Ohio. It is the first time the union has targeted all three automakers at the same time.

Fain said late Monday that the UAW would launch additional strikes at more Ford, GM and Stellantis plants if “serious progress” is not made in negotiations by mid-day Friday.

“Autoworkers have waited long enough to make things right at the Big Three. We’re not waiting around, and we’re not messing around. So, noon on Friday, Sept. 22, is a new deadline,” Fain said in a video released by the union.

Biden, who often touts his middle-class upbringing, has sought to closely associate himself with the labor movement. But the strikes could test the president’s commitment to organized labor if the work stoppages expand and threaten broader economic disruption as he seeks a second term in office.

Former President Donald Trump had called on the UAW to endorse his 2024 bid to retake the presidency, while at the same attacking the union’s leadership.

Trump is planning to skip the GOP primary debate next week and instead travel to Detroit to speak with union members.

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