In Kansas City, Kansas, Biden Courts UAW Vote As GM Strike Enters Second Week | KCUR

In Kansas City, Kansas, Biden Courts UAW Vote As GM Strike Enters Second Week

Sep 22, 2019

At a stop in Kansas City, Kansas, on Sunday, former Vice President Joe Biden stood on the bed of a black Chevy Z71 pickup and told several hundred striking United Auto Workers he was one of them.

“I’m Joe Biden and I am UAW,” he said to cheers and applause outside the General Motors' Fairfax plant. “My dad sold those vehicles. That’s how I got through school."

In solidarity, Biden had pulled a red UAW strike T-shirt over his blue checked button-down shirt.

Flanked by Local 31 President Clarence “C.B.” Brown and Shop Chairman Johnny “Mac” McEntire, Biden told the crowd it was “not fair, simply not fair” that GM top brass are some of the highest paid executives in the country while workers need to walk off the job for fair pay and benefits. 

"You’re making a hell of a sacrifice,” he told them.

Biden told these workers they need the Democratic Party,  particularly what he's offering as a candidate. 

“If we don’t win this … the folks who share my view … a lot of other unions are in real trouble," he said. "Not just in the automobile field. Because there’s been a war in labor’s house for a long, long time,” he said.

Biden spent an hour after his remarks meeting supporters and taking selfies.
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

As Biden waded into the crowd to shake hands and take selfies, Local 31 President Brown said he'd be lying if he said he had confidence the strike will be over soon. But having Biden here, he said, gave the rank and file a shot in the arm.

“It means a tremendous amount to have the support of the Mr. Biden, the former vice president,” Brown said.

Republicans dominate Missouri's elected offices, and Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the state by a sizable margin in the 2016 presidential election. But the newly elected chair of the state Democratic Party, Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker, said it's significant when candidates show up here. 

“We love to have the attention of any Democratic candidate brought to the state of Missouri, because it shows that Missouri is not lost,” she said. “It shows that we’re ready to roll.”

Bill Skaggs, 77, said he had 25 years as a union worker at the GM assembly plant in Leeds, where he worked until it closed in 1988. He said he draws a good pension as a retiree, but remembers his anxiety when he was on strike for a month back in the 1960s.

Bill Skaggs, a retired UAW member, said he worries about the adverse impact of a long-term strike.
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

“I know what they’re thinking. They’re thinking, 'Am I going to be able to make my house payment and my car payment and put food on the table?' Right now they’re full of enthusiasm, but if this thing drags on for a long time, they’re going to get pretty nervous," Skaggs said.

Just before workers walked off the job at midnight on Sunday, Sept. 15, General Motors released a statement saying it had given the union a “strong offer” to improve wages, benefits and grow jobs in the United States.

Several hundred striking workers came out to see Presidential hopeful Biden,
Credit Laura Ziegler / KCUR 89.3

Biden’s visit to the Fairfax plant coincided with Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren's visit to another strike by UAW-served janitors in Michigan. The latest Des Moines Register poll shows Warren leading Biden in Iowa by 2 points. 

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s polling close behind Biden and Warren, was scheduled to visit striking workers in Michigan on Wednesday. 

Laura Ziegler is a community engagement reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter @laurazig or by email at lauraz@kcur.org.