United Auto Workers President Shawn Fain on Monday said government should make up for pensions if corporations won’t pay for them, downplayed security along the southern border and called for a just transition to electric vehicles.
Fain’s remarks came during the union’s National Community Action Program Conference in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of members have gathered to discuss policy priorities and partake in workshops focused on activism during this year’s presidential election. The UAW has yet to endorse a candidate even as other major unions have backed President Joe Biden, but Fain has suggested an endorsement could come as early as this week.
“We have to take the issues that matter to the working class and poor, and we have to make our political leaders stand up with us,” Fain said during his opening remarks. “Our message in doing this is simple: Support our cause, or you will not get our endorsement.”
Fain described political activism as an extension of the gains the union obtained this fall in its new contracts with the Detroit Three automakers. The new pacts delivered record wage hikes, resumed cost-of-living adjustments, obtained improvements to retirement packages and other benefits and secured billions of dollars in investments.
The union, however, was unsuccessful in delivering its demand to secure pensions and post-retirement health care for all 146,000 autoworkers. Those hired after 2007 have 401(k)s with matching contributions that were upped in the latest round of negotiations. Analysts have estimated the union’s demand would cost billions of dollars.
“We’re going to keep pushing for this in the next round of negotiations,” Fain said. “But we’re thinking even bigger, and we’re not going to wait until 2028. Either the Big Three guarantee retirement security for workers who give their lives to these companies or an even bigger player does: the federal government.”
He criticized identity politics as divisive contributors that distract from the focus on billionaires and “corporate greed.” The idea of border security being a major issue in this year’s election, he said, is “a joke.”
“They try to divide us nationally by nationality,” Fain said. “Right now, we have millions of people being told that the biggest threat to their livelihood is migrants coming over the border. The threat we face at the border isn’t from the migrants. It’s from the billionaires and the politicians getting working people to point the finger at one another, when in reality, we’re all on the same side of the war against the working class.”
He likened the situation to his own grandparents who crossed “state lines instead of federal lines” to become autoworkers and join the UAW: “They went somewhere else to find a better life. That’s all these people are trying to do.”
Fain also emphasized the need for a just transition to cleaner energy vehicles. He said the union must play a leading role in that, even as the UAW’s own reports suggest the move to EVs could risk jobs.
“We have to, as a union, lead in the area of environmental safety,” Fain said. “It does no good to bargain for another dollar an hour or another week’s vacation, if on the vacation you take you can’t swim in the lake, because it’s dirty, and you can’t breathe clean air.”