Biden ‘hit it out of the ballpark again’ Skip to content

Biden ‘hit it out of the ballpark again’

Biden made a point of calling out unions in his SOTU speech on Thursday.

United Auto Workers retiree Kirk Gillenwaters said President Joe Biden “hit it out of the ballpark again” with his State of the Union speech.

“I was still on a high from when he spoke to us and hit it out of the ballpark,” said Gillenwaters, a longtime Kentucky union activist and president of the Kentucky Alliance for Retired Americans. In January, he attended the UAW’s annual Community Action Program legislative conference in Washington where Shawn Fain, the union's president, announced that the UAW was endorsing Biden.

“You built these companies,” The Washington Post's Lauren Kaori Gurley quoted from Biden's acceptance speech. “You sacrificed to save them, and you deserve to benefit when these companies thrive.” Biden meant “the losses UAW members took during the Great Recession and auto-companies’ strong rebound in recent years,” according to Gurley.

Gillenwaters, a Louisville UAW Local 862 retiree, watched Biden’s State of the Union speech on TV. He was proud to see Biden recognize Fain, who was seated with First Lady Jill Biden in the House gallery viewing box.

Biden looked up and called the UAW president "a great friend, and a great labor leader,” adding, "I was proud to be the first President in American history to walk a picket line.”

Fain stood and applauded the president. 

Biden “has stood up for organized labor more than any other president,” said Gillenwaters, who worked at the Derby City's Ford assembly plant and lives on a farm near Louisville. He also heard Fain speak last December at the Kentucky State AFL-CIO’s biennial convention in Lexington. 

Biden, accompanied by Fain, visited striking UAW workers at a General Motors parts distribution warehouse near Detroit last Sept. 26. The Associated Press called the president’s appearance “a demonstration of support for organized labor apparently unparalleled in presidential history.”

On Sept. 27, former president Donald Trump, now the almost certain Republican presidential nominee, appeared at a non-union Detroit auto parts plant. Fain was unimpressed.

Fain drew a sharp distinction between how Biden and Trump reacted to the UAW's Stand Up Strike against General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis that ultimately netted the union one of its best contracts in decades. Fain said Biden “heard the call, and he stood up and he showed up. He joined us in solidarity on the picket line” while Trump “went to a non-union plant invited by the boss and trashed our union.”

Mediaite’s Alex Griffing wrote that Fain flayed Trump. “Donald Trump is a scab. Donald Trump is a billionaire and that’s who he represents,” he quoted the UAW president.

“If Donald Trump ever worked in an auto plant, he wouldn’t be a UAW member. He’d be a company man trying to squeeze the American worker. Donald Trump stands against everything we stand for as a union, as a society. When you go back to our core issues: wages, retirement, health care and our time, that’s what this election’s about.

"This election’s about who will stand up with us and who will stand in our way. Those are the questions that will win or lose this election and will decide our fate. Those are the questions that will determine the future of our country and the fate of the working class.”

Gillenwaters pointed out that in his State of the Union speech, Biden urged Congress to pass the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, or PRO Act for short. Unions say the PRO Act is the most significant labor legislation proposed in decades. 

The PRO Act, according to the AFL-CIO, “will empower workers to exercise our freedom to organize and negotiate for better wages and working conditions. It will remove archaic barriers to organizing, increase worker protections and strengthen the institutions that hold corporations accountable. It will repeal the ‘right to work’ laws that lead to lower wages, fewer benefits, and more dangerous workplaces.”

House and Senate Republicans are united against the PRO Act, which Trump promised to veto when he was president.

Gillenwaters also said that Biden, in his speech, “gave you the past; he gave you what the future’s going to be."  

Part of that future, Gillenwaters said, is the almost 60-year-old Belvidere, Ill., auto plant, which Biden hailed as “a great comeback story.” 

Biden explained, “Before I came to office the plant was on its way to shutting down. Thousands of workers feared for their livelihoods. Hope was fading. Then I was elected to office and we raised Belvidere repeatedly with the auto company, knowing unions make all the difference.” 

Chrysler, now Stellantis, opened the factory in 1965. “The UAW worked like hell to keep the plant open and get those jobs back,” Biden said. “And together, we succeeded! Instead of an auto factory shutting down, an auto factory is re-opening and a new state-of-the art battery factory is being built to power those cars. Instead of a town being left behind it’s a community moving forward again! Because instead of watching auto jobs of the future go overseas, 4,000 union workers with higher wages will be building that future, in Belvidere, here in America!”

Also seated in the viewing box was Dawn Simms, whom he described as “a third generation UAW worker in Belvidere.” Biden said, “Today, Dawn has a job in her hometown providing stability for her family, and pride and dignity.”

Biden then repeated his claim that “Wall Street didn’t build this country! The middle class built this country! And unions built the middle class!”

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Berry Craig

Berry Craig is a professor emeritus of history at West KY Community College, and an author of seven books and co-author of two more. (Read the rest on the Contributors page.)

Arlington, KY

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