UAW president meets with Biden as union opens automaker contract talks

WASHINGTON, July 19 (Reuters) – United Auto Workers (UAW) President Shawn Fain met on Wednesday with President Joe Biden at the White House as the union briefed staff on contract talks with the Detroit Three automakers.

Fain, who was on Capitol Hill meeting with lawmakers to discuss the labor talks and the union’s push for higher wages and benefits, has not yet endorsed Biden for re-election and has criticized some administration electric vehicle policies. Most other major unions have already endorsed Biden.

The UAW leadership had asked for time to brief White House senior staff on the Detroit Three contract negotiations, a White House official said. That meeting took place on Wednesday in the West Wing, and when Biden learned of it, he asked to also talk directly with Fain and the two had a brief meeting, the official added.

Last month, Fain harshly criticized the U.S. Energy Department plan to lend $9.2 billion to a joint venture of Ford Motor (F.N) and South Korea’s SK On to build three U.S. battery plants.

Asked about his message for Biden on how he could boost auto workers given the federal incentives, Fain said: “We just really discussed what options are out there. We just have to see where things go.”

Fain said last week the UAW was not ready to endorse Biden. “We have expectations and that’s why we haven’t made endorsements yet. We expect people to be there for us if they want our endorsement,” he said.

Fain was in Washington in April and met with White House Chief of Staff Jeff Zients.

Fain, who represents 150,000 U.S. hourly workers at General Motors (GM.N), Ford and Chrysler parent Stellantis (STLAM.MI), has not ruled out striking all three U.S. automakers if new contracts are not reached by the Sept. 14 deadline.

Fain told lawmakers what members were seeking in new contracts. He said the Detroit Three had earned nearly $250 billion in profit over the last decade in North America. “It’s a very uneven playing field right now,” Fain said. “Our workers have regressed. We’ve got to do better.”

Fain said Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares did not attend the opening of contract talks last week and Stellantis’ chief operating officer for North America, Mark Stewart, was late.

“The fact that Tavares couldn’t even show up for the beginning of bargaining, the most critical set of negotiations in this company’s history, is shameful,” Fain said.

Stellantis said Tuesday in response that it believed the opening session with the UAW “went well and we intend on continuing to approach these discussions in a respectful manner.”

The UAW said in a memo Wednesday that during the opening of talks with GM the day before that the union made clear the Sept. 14 contract expiration “is not a suggestion, it is a deadline.”

Reporting by David Shepardson in Washington Editing by Leslie Adler and Matthew Lewis