Sept. 15 (UPI) -- Less than a day after the United Auto Workers union began striking for higher wages and more benefits, U.S. President Joe Biden weighed in, saying on Friday that he understood "workers' frustration" in the face of automakers' recent profits.
Biden said striking UAW workers deserve a record contract from auto companies because of these record profits, which the president said have not been shared fairly with autoworkers.
In remarks during a video livestream Friday, Biden said, "No one wants a strike. But I respect workers' rights to use their options under the collective bargaining system. And I understand the workers' frustration."
He added that the automakers have made some significant offers, but he believes they should go further to ensure their record corporate profits mean record contracts for the UAW.
"The bottom line is that autoworkers helped create America's middle class," Biden said. "They deserve a contract that sustains them and the middle class."
Also on Friday, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called for an end to the strike as it also blamed Biden for the current labor negotiation impasse.
In a statement publicized Friday, U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Suzanne P. Clark said, "The UAW strike and indeed the 'summer of strikes' is the natural result of the Biden administration's 'whole of government' approach to promoting unionization at all costs. The chamber urges the UAW to call off the strike and get back to the negotiating table."
Biden said he's dispatching acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and Senior White House Adviser Gene Sperling to Detroit to offer their support to the parties as they try to reach a contract.
The UAW on Friday struck GM's Wentzville Assembly plant, Ford's Michigan assembly plant and Stellantis' Toledo, Ohio, assembly complex in the first-ever simultaneous UAW strike against all three major automakers.
The union is seeking a 40% pay raise over the four-year contract, citing automaker CEO's 40% raise over the last four years. The UAW also seeks re-instatement of an automatic cost of living adjustment based on inflation.
The union also wants an end to the two-tier pay system that starts autoworkers at lower wages without pensions or healthcare benefits and takes years for those workers to reach parity with full UAW wages and benefits.
The UAW sacrificed those benefits in concessions when the auto companies teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in 2008-09.
The union also is working to get defined benefit pensions for all workers, a reduced work week and more paid time off. The UAW also wants to limit the use of temporary workers and get better retiree benefits.
According to the UAW, its union contract cost comprises approximately 5-6% of the price of a new vehicle. The union says the companies are price-gouging consumers and the union isn't to blame for high car prices.
GM CEO Mary Barra said Friday on Good Morning America, "I'm extremely disappointed and frustrated that we're in a strike. If you look at the offer we have on the table, it's a very strong offer."
Barra's current total annual compensation is $29 million.
A CNN reporter asked her about that compensation and why workers shouldn't get percentage raises similar to CEO raises.
She said 92% of her compensation is based on company performance. Barra said when GM does well, UAW workers get profit-sharing checks.
The union says lump sum bonus payments are no replacement for strong wage increases and the cost of living benefit being restored.
The UAW says its members have seen their compensation eroded by concessions and inflation for years and now that auto companies have record profits, it's time the workers caught up.
The UAW is holding a strike rally in Detroit Friday featuring Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont.
If no contract agreement is reached soon, UAW President Shawn Fain has said he will escalate the effort by calling strikes at more plants.
The 2019 UAW strike against GM cost the company billions of dollars.