Last Tuesday, President Biden joined members of the United Auto Workers on a picket line in Belleville, Michigan, as part of the union’s strike against Detroit’s big three automakers: General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis, which owns Chrysler. Biden was the first American President to ever appear on a picket line, a signal that the Democratic Party, under his Administration, is increasingly willing to embrace labor unions, which in the past several years have reached their highest levels of popularity in more than half a century. (The next day, former President Donald Trump also travelled to Michigan, and gave a speech castigating the Biden Administration at a non-union manufacturing shop.)
Biden’s support for unions, especially compared with other recent Presidents, has not been met with universal approval within the Democratic Party. Steve Rattner, a former economics journalist and investor who became the “car czar” in the Obama Administration, criticized the move, telling NBC News, “For [Biden] to be going to a picket line is outrageous.” I recently spoke by phone with Rattner, who is currently the chairman and C.E.O. of Willett Advisors, LLC, which manages the personal and philanthropic assets of Michael Bloomberg. During our conversation, which has been edited for length and clarity, we discussed his worries about the strike, why C.E.O. pay has grown so rapidly, and his critique of the Biden Administration.
In a recent Times op-ed, you wrote, “I’m all for the auto workers getting paid more–they have legitimate concerns.” What do you see as their legitimate concerns?
The legitimate concerns are that the auto workers in general and the workers at the Detroit Three in particular have seen declines in their after-inflation wages in recent years as a combination of relatively modest nominal wage increases combined with high inflation.
Yes, you wrote, “When I headed President Barack Obama’s auto task force in 2009, we restructured General Motors and Chrysler (now Stellantis) and asked the U.A.W. to make significant sacrifices, including to their generous benefits