No sooner did Joe Biden step to the podium to accept the United Auto Workers' crucial endorsement for reelection than Kirk Gillenwaters raised his cell phone and snapped a photo of the beaming president.
“I was two tables from the stand,” said Gillenwaters, a veteran union activist, Louisville UAW Local 862 retiree, and president of the Kentucky Alliance for Retired Americans. “The energy in that room was unbelievable.”
Biden received the UAW nod Wednesday afternoon at the union’s annual Community Action Program legislative conference in Washington. “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 was referring to “the losses UAW members took during the Great Recession and auto-companies’ strong rebound in recent years,” according to Gurley.
Gillenwaters, who also serves on the Kentucky State AFL-CIO Executive Board, said attendees frequently interrupted speeches by Biden and UAW President Shawn Fain with standing ovations.
Gillenwaters, part of a Kentucky contingent at the conference, said Fain introduced the president by highlighting what Biden had done for unions since he was inaugurated in 2021.
“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.”
Wrote Gurley, “Coming off a high-profile strike in 2023 that won record wage gains for autoworkers, the UAW had been delaying an endorsement in the race, even as Biden made several trips this fall to support autoworkers, becoming the first sitting president to visit a picket line,” she also wrote. “The work stoppage also brought Trump to Michigan to woo autoworkers.”
Biden traveled to the UAW picket line near Detroit last September. A day later, Trump came courting blue collar votes at a nonunion parts plant, also close to the Motor City. He spoke to a group of reportedly more than 300 workers, but few were striking UAW members, according to NBC News.
While the union withheld an endorsement until today, Fain had made it clear for months that the UAW wouldn’t back Trump. “Every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers,” he said in a statement. “We can’t keep electing billionaires and millionaires that don’t have any understanding what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to get by and expecting them to solve the problems of the working class.”
Gillenwaters said that Trump was among the most anti-union presidents ever. “He spent four years attacking union men and women. He destroyed the NLRB, the OSHA boards – all of these different protections we have to rely on. It all starts at the White House.”
Thus, he added, the UAW backed Biden. “We cannot take a chance of going backward. We saw what happened between when Trump was in the White House.”
The UAW endorsement “has strong implications for the key battleground states of Michigan and Wisconsin; Biden narrowly won both states in 2020,” Gurley wrote.