On Wednesday, the United Auto Workers endorsed President Joe Biden for his 2024 reelection campaign, drawing protests from union members who say the president’s support for Israel is at odds with the union’s call for a ceasefire in Gaza.
The endorsement was delivered by UAW President Shawn Fain at the union’s national community action program conference in Washington, D.C., where Biden spoke on Wednesday afternoon. Biden was briefly interrupted by UAW members calling for a ceasefire.
Johannah King-Slutzky, a UAW member who was one of the disruptors, said that there is a dissonance between the endorsement and Fain’s principles that have inspired workers. “I think this is a situation where we need to push them to live up to their own principles that are what we’re inspired by. You know, Shawn Fain is the one who said ‘You got to earn our endorsement.’ A president who supports genocide and is actively sending funds and weapons to Israel to kill children, families, that’s not something that I feel has earned my endorsement.”
At least 527 workers signed a petition — organized by members of UAW Labor for Palestine, a rank-and-file group — pressing union leadership to only endorse political candidates who publicly call for a ceasefire and to vote accordingly. The UAW International Union endorsed a ceasefire in Gaza in December, and Fain himself joined a group of lawmakers outside the Capitol to call for a ceasefire in Gaza last month.
Fain has repeatedly spoken on the cause for peace in Gaza, delivering remarks as recently as Tuesday. “We don’t stop our fight for justice at the workplace,” he said at the conference. “We don’t stop our fight for justice because it’s not the right time. When and where there’s a war, whether it’s in Vietnam or Gaza, we call for peace.” He told reporters on Wednesday that he thought the protesters were exercising their democratic rights and reaffirmed the union’s pro-ceasefire position.
Some UAW members said that the endorsement cuts against the UAW’s leverage to push the president, whose administration has firmly opposed calls for a ceasefire in Gaza. “Multiple people I spoke with were all of the mind that this was a horrible time for an endorsement, especially in light of the genocide that’s happening in Palestine and the fact that Joe Biden is completely out of line with the call for a ceasefire that our union has made,” said Zachary Valdez, a shop steward at UAW Local 2110, a union for support staff at Columbia University.
Merwan Beydoun, a 29-year member of the UAW in Dearborn, Michigan, and former vice president and bargaining representative for his steel unit, withdrew his support of the UAW’s political arm on Tuesday, ahead of the expected Biden endorsement. “It is disheartening to note that some politicians associated with the UAW PAC have not actively called for a ceasefire,” Beydoun said in a statement. “I believe that endorsing and supporting candidates who prioritize the cessation of hostilities is essential for the promotion of peace and justice.”
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., addressed the conference on Wednesday and received a standing ovation as she spoke about a ceasefire and solidarity with Palestine — something the UAW’s own Twitter account hailed.
Since Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel, Biden has bypassed Congress twice to send weapons to Israel and has also asked lawmakers to approve a $14 billion supplemental aid package for the country. Many U.S. weapons are made in unionized factories, including some that employ UAW workers. “Our union can take a strong stance to say — like unionists all over the world have, and as happened in South Africa — that they will not make weapons that will be sent to Israel,” said UAW member Mary Jirmanus Saba, whose partner has lost nine family members in Gaza as they sheltered in a church.
Fain last year said the UAW would withhold its endorsement of Biden until concerns about the auto industry’s transition to all-electric vehicles were addressed; later, Fain said he was expecting “action not words” from Biden if he sought the union endorsement. In September, Biden joined workers on the picket line — becoming the first president to do so — as they conducted stand-up strikes against the Big Three automakers.
In announcing the endorsement, Fain contrasted Biden and former President Donald Trump’s record on labor and spoke about Trump’s friendliness toward corporate America. “This choice is clear: Joe Biden bet on the American worker, while Donald Trump blamed the American worker,” he said. ”If our endorsement must be earned, Joe Biden has earned it.”
Update: January 24, 2024, 6:50 p.m. ET
This article was updated to include Shawn Fain’s remarks to reporters about the protest.