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UAW leader warns of strike after Biden suggested he wasn’t worried about talks failing: ‘It’s looking that way’

The leader of the United Auto Workers union on Thursday pushed back on President Joe Biden’s remarks last weekend dismissing the possibility of a looming strike against Detroit automakers as contract negotiations remain at a stalemate.

In an interview on “Morning Joe,” UAW President Shawn Fain was asked to respond to Biden’s remarks on Labor Day when asked if he was worried about a UAW strike. Biden said: “No, I’m not worried about a strike until it happens.”

Fain said the union’s intent is to reach an agreement with automakers.

“One thing we’ve said from the outset is things are not going to be as they always have been,” he said. “The companies in past negotiations always have a tendency to drag things out until the very end, and then they want to drop a bunch of stuff and just scramble,” he said. “And I’ve told them from from day one that we don’t intend to do things that way.”

The union leader stressed that it plans to bargain with all three Detroit automakers — General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Stellantis — until contracts for about 150,000 auto workers expire on Sept. 14. The union hopes to have an agreement by then, Fain said, but warned that “there will be action” if an agreement isn’t reached in that time frame.

“So you know, the way things are going right now, it’s looking that way,” he said, referring to a potential strike. “So hopefully, you know, things can change.”

The UAW backed Biden’s 2020 presidential bid, but when asked whether Biden will receive the union’s endorsement again, Fain said it is standing by withholding a reelection endorsement for now. Fain has said the president would need to address concerns about the auto industry’s transition to all-electric vehicles, including over job security, pay and organizing.

“We’ll make the decision when the time is right — when our members decide that time is right, and our leadership. And, you know, it’s a process we go through. The one thing we’ve made clear is that our endorsements are going to be earned, not freely given. It’s one thing we’re doing differently, and there’s a lot of work left to be done here.”

Fain said of Biden, “with the EV transition, I do believe his intentions were good when he said he wants these to be good-paid or these to be union jobs. But as I said, you give the company an inch they take a mile. The companies interpret that as, they have no problem with this being union jobs, but they want it to be a race to the bottom,” he said, referring to slow pay increases in past instances and adding that the EV transition “needs to be a just transition.”

Fain went on to reiterate his denouncement of former President Donald Trump, referring to comments he made during his 2016 election campaign.

“I’ll never forget in the ’16 race when he spoke about workers in Michigan, union jobs and the Midwest, and said we need to do a rotation in this country, we need to move those jobs to other places that pay less money and then those people’ll be begging for their jobs back for anything,” he said. “That’s not a person I want as my president.”

Fain also took issue with Trump recently calling on autoworkers to stop paying their union dues while criticizing union leadership in a post to his Truth Social platform this week.

“That’s not someone that represents working class people. He’s part of the billionaire class, we need to not forget that,” he said. “And that’s what our members need to think about when they go to vote.”

The White House, Biden’s campaign and the Trump campaign did not immediately respond to NBC News’ requests for comment. Representatives of the Big Three automakers also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Fain’s remarks comes days after he told The Detroit News that he was “shocked” in response to Biden’s assertion that an auto strike is unlikely.

“He must know something we don’t know,” Fain said, according to The Detroit News. “Our intent is not to strike. Our intent is to get a fair agreement. That’s been our intent from day one. But as we get down to the wire here, there’s three companies to bargain with and there’s 10 days left to do it. So I know what it looks like to me.”

Fain said Wednesday that a strike would show Biden and other politicians that they need to “pick a side” when it comes to organized labor. 

“I think our strike can reaffirm to [Biden] of where the working-class people in this country stand and, you know, it’s time for politicians in this country to pick a side,” he said during CNBC’s “Last Call” with Brian Sullivan on Wednesday. “Either you stand for a billionaire class where everybody else gets left behind, or you stand for the working class, the working-class people vote.”

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