Biden Hails Labor Victory for Dockworkers as UAW Talks Drag On

(Bloomberg) -- President Joe Biden hailed an agreement between dockworkers and terminal operators, showcasing his support for organized labor even as another contentious contract negotiation between the United Auto Workers and Detroit’s legacy carmarkers threatens to deliver a blow to the US economy.

Most Read from Bloomberg

“Done right, collective bargaining means everyone wins — workers, employers, our economy, and consumers,” Biden said Wednesday at a White House event with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Pacific Maritime Association.

The remarks were Biden’s latest effort to shore up his support among rank-and-file union workers whose backing he will need in next year’s election. The president congratulated labor and management for reaching a six-year labor contract covering ports up and down the US West Coast.

“I want to thank both sides for working through this and for getting it done,” Biden said. “It’s a good deal for workers. It’s a good deal for companies. And it’s a good deal for the United States of America.”

He said the agreement’s economic impact was “gigantic” and that the deal was essential to protecting supply chains and combating high inflation, which has been a persistent headache for his administration.

“Goods are moving quickly and efficiently across the country,” Biden said. “Strengthen supply chains, and inflation goes down.”

Earlier: West Coast Dockworkers Ratify Labor Contract at Major US Ports

But the event comes in the shadow of another labor dispute that is also a danger to supply chains. The UAW’s 150,000 members are threatening a strike against General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis NV, the maker of the Jeep and Chrysler brands, if a deal is not reached by Sept. 14.

Biden’s effort to transition the US to electric vehicles is central to the talks, with the wages and benefits of workers in EV battery plants and whether the UAW can represent them a major obstacle to an agreement.

The UAW endorsed Biden in 2020 but has yet to support his reelection campaign, with union President Shawn Fain saying Democrats need to do more to support autoworkers. Biden didn’t mention the dispute in his remarks Wednesday.

A halt in production threatens to put pressure on vehicle inventories already low because of pandemic-related parts shortages, potentially driving up car prices. A strike by hourly workers at GM, Ford and Stellantis would cause an economic loss of more than $5 billion after just 10 days, according to a study by Anderson Economic Group.

Earlier: What’s at Stake as US Auto Workers Threaten to Strike: QuickTake

Biden regularly calls himself the most pro-union president in US history, touting policies he says are creating jobs, bringing workers higher wages and helping labor groups revitalize their ranks. That approach has earned the endorsement of the AFL-CIO and other unions.

Biden has avoided economically crippling work stoppages in other industries. The dispute between the ILWU, which covers around 20,000 dockworkers, and the PMA, which represents ocean carriers and terminal operators, dragged on for months and saw West Coast ports lose market share during the negotiations as shippers turned to East Coast and Gulf hubs to avoid potential disruptions.

The ports deal was brokered after the intervention of acting Labor Secretary Julie Su, and Biden personally intervened in separate talks to secure an agreement for freight-rail workers. Biden on Wednesday also hailed an agreement between between the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and United Parcel Service Inc.

Still, the UAW fight poses a fresh test of his pro-union credentials. Biden has said he is speaking to the UAW and has urged both sides to reach a “fair” agreement, calling on carmakers to avoid plant closings and to ensure that any job transitions take place in the same communities. He met in July with Fain when the union’s leaders briefed senior staff at the White House.

Former President Donald Trump, the 2024 Republican frontrunner, has urged the UAW to endorse him, saying Biden’s EV agenda will cost American jobs and saddle consumers with higher prices.

Biden told reporters Monday he did not think the UAW’s threatened strike would happen. Asked about those remarks Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Biden was merely expressing optimism for a deal.

Most Read from Bloomberg Businessweek

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.