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Biden lands a potentially major endorsement for president — the UAW

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

President Biden got a potentially big endorsement in the 2024 presidential contest today from the United Auto Workers union. And that organization has nearly 400,000 members, many of them in such important political battlegrounds as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. The UAW had been a holdout in granting its endorsement. Other major labor organizations, like the AFL-CIO, made announcements that they were backing Biden last summer. But now the UAW is officially on board with President Biden, and NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea is covering this from Detroit. Hey, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Hi there.

SHAPIRO: This announcement comes after a long and successful UAW strike against Detroit's big carmakers. Tell us how the union came around to Biden after insisting for so long that it was going to take its time and that such an endorsement had to really be earned.

GONYEA: The question was never whether the union might endorse Trump. Fain has - Shawn Fain, the union president, has said repeatedly over the months that a second Trump term would be a disaster. But today, he really, really drove that home using the strongest of language to reject Trump.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHAWN FAIN: Donald Trump is a scab.

(CHEERING)

FAIN: Donald Trump is a billionaire, and that's who he represents.

(CHEERING)

GONYEA: And Ari, just to underscore that use of the term scab - it is as low of an insult as you can get from a union leader. It's a term for a person who crosses the picket line during a strike. So that was the tone. Fain made multiple comparisons between Biden and Trump in a 30-minute speech. He noted that Biden has stood by unions over the decades, that Trump has done the opposite, that Biden showed up and joined their picket lines during the strike last fall - the first sitting president ever to join a picket line - while Trump came to metro Detroit as well, but he gave a speech at a non-union auto parts factory. And so it went.

SHAPIRO: Biden also spoke. Clearly, he's pleased to get this endorsement. What was his message?

GONYEA: Can I say first, Fain set a tone. This was a raucous event. I've seen lots of endorsements over the years. This one had way more energy than they typically do. Biden came out and immediately put on a UAW ball cap. At Trump events, we see the MAGA hats. Biden conspicuously put on the UAW cap. He was clearly grateful. He's been waiting for this endorsement. And he said, as he has said so many times, that joining a union is a right and that unions built the middle class and made the companies they work for better.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: You built these iconic companies. You built GM. You built these companies. You sacrificed to save them in the worst of times, and you deserve to benefit when these companies thrive. As Shawn said, record profits mean record contracts.

(APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: So Don, why is this endorsement potentially so significant?

GONYEA: First, it doesn't automatically or magically deliver the union vote to Biden. Union voters are divided, but they do tend to support Democrats, maybe by something like 58 to 40. Trump does better than other Republicans with that vote, but even he doesn't carry the union vote. The question is, does UAW President Shawn Fain have some extra pull with his members now that he's led them through a very successful strike and will that pay off in unusual and out-of-the-ordinary ways for Biden?

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Don Gonyea reporting from Detroit. Thanks, Don.

GONYEA: It's my pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH SONG, "STREET KNOWLEDGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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