"This is unprecedented: a sitting president showing up on the picket lines with workers," said Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal.
In a historic move, U.S. President Joe Biden vowed Friday to travel to Michigan next week and stand with striking United Auto Workers members, an announcement that came just hours after union autoworkers widened their strike to include all U.S. General Motors and Stellantis parts distribution centers.
"Tuesday, I'll go to Michigan to join the picket line and stand in solidarity with the men and women of UAW as they fight for a fair share of the value they helped create," Biden said on social media. "It's time for a win-win agreement that keeps American auto manufacturing thriving with well-paid UAW jobs."
Last Friday, Biden called on automakers to share more of their windfall with UAW workers, who are seeking better pay and benefits.
"Auto companies have seen record profits... They have not been shared fairly with workers," the president said. "I understand the workers' frustration. Over generations, autoworkers have sacrificed so much to keep the industry alive and strong, especially during the economic crisis and the pandemic."
"The companies have made some significant offers," Biden added. "But I believe they should go further to ensure that record corporate profits mean record contracts for the UAW."
Biden—who is seeking reelection next year—is a self-described "pro-labor president" but his response to the UAW is notably different from last year, when he came under fire for signing legislation to block a nationwide rail strike.
At noon Eastern time this Friday, workers at all 38 GM and Stellantis parts distribution facilities across the U.S. walked off the job as the UAW escalated its strike.
"We will shut down parts distribution until those two companies come to their senses and come to the table with a serious offer," UAW president Shawn Fain said in a video update. "The plants that are already on strike will remain on strike."
Fain said Ford was spared the escalation because UAW and company negotiators were making "real progress" at the bargaining table.
While some striking workers said they'd prefer the president didn't join them, others welcomed the solidarity.
"Me personally, I wouldn't mind if Biden stepped up and showed some support," 55-year-old Laura Zielinski of Toledo, Ohio, toldReuters earlier this week, recalling 2010, when he was vice president and visited her city's Stellantis assembly plant.
"Support like that would put a spotlight on the talks—kind of give a nudge to the companies," she added.
Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said Friday on social media that it was "unprecedented" for a sitting U.S. president to join striking workers on a picket line.
Jeremi Suri, a historian and presidential scholar at the University of Texas at Austin, toldReuters the last time it happened was probably in 1902, when then-President Theodore Roosevelt invited striking coal miners to the White House.
"This would be a major, major shift for Biden to identify the presidency with striking workers," said Suri, "rather than siding with industry or staying above the fray."