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President Joe Biden speaks to United Auto Workers on Thursday at the Community Building Complex in Belvidere.

President Joe Biden speaks to United Auto Workers on Thursday at the Community Building Complex in Belvidere.

Evan Vucci

Biden stumps for unions and himself during UAW celebration in Belvidere

With one man providing clout and the other expected to deliver cash to close the deal, President Joe Biden and Gov. JB Pritzker joined members of the United Auto Workers on Thursday to celebrate the planned reopening of the Stellantis vehicle-assembly plant in Belvidere.

Faced with declining poll numbers and a crisis in the Middle East, Biden leaned in to his chance to fire up a crowd rejoicing over the UAW’s historic gains from its targeted strike against the Detroit Big Three automakers. In its deal with Stellantis, the union secured a pledge to restart Belvidere, adding thousands of jobs.

Biden donned a red UAW T-shirt to address the crowd at a community center in Belvidere. He spoke in front of a banner that read, “Auto workers back to work.”

“These deals are game-changers not only for UAW workers but for all workers in America,” Biden said, citing spinoff effects that include Toyota, a nonunion company, agreeing to wage hikes in the aftermath of the UAW agreements. “It’s a bigger thing than I think even you all realize. You’ve changed the face of the country economically.”

His audience included Pritzker, UAW president Shawn Fain and Matt Frantzen, president of UAW Local 1268 from the Belvidere plant. Fain was an architect of the UAW’s strike strategy for escalating walkouts at selected factories at locations including Chicago.

The union and Stellantis reached a deal Oct. 28 that, along with wage hikes of up to 25% over the next 4 1/2 years and cost-of-living raises, committed the company to reopening the Belvidere factory.

GMand Ford also have settled with the union. Ratification votes are ongoing.

State funds for Belvidere plant

Pritzker has said his administration is finalizing an incentives package to support Stellantis’ estimated $5 billion investment in Belvidere. A spokesman for the governor said Thursday the details are being worked out.

“You are tough, tough, tough as they come,” Biden told the UAW crowd, giving those who walked the picket lines credit for applying pressure.

He said he also played a role, calling Mark Stewart, Stellantis’ chief operating officer for North America, to urge him to reopen Belvidere.

Biden’s call fulfilled a promise he made to Frantzen during a face-to-face meeting in Chicago. He said Frantzen “told me how critical it was to get that plant open and online again. So I told my team, ‘Make Stellantis know Belvidere is a priority,’ and I got on the phone, and I let them know personally it was a priority.”

Pritzker also addressed the crowd.

“For almost two years, we’ve been laser-focused on working toward a permanent solution to protect workers here in Belvidere — one that retains and grows good-paying jobs and supports economic development throughout the region,” he said, according to a transcript from his office.

The governor offered no specifics on an incentives package. He thanked Biden and the workers, saying, “Together, we are winning the global fight for manufacturing jobs of the future and winning the battle to make Illinois the best state to live, work and raise a family.”

State funds for the plant’s revival could come from a $400 million “deal-closing fund” for large-scale private investments. Also, the state has established incentives for automakers transitioning to electric vehicles and battery production while retaining or creating jobs.

The package could be larger than the $536 million Pritzker committed in September to Gotion, a Chinese company that agreed to build a battery factory in Manteno.

People react as President Joe Biden speaks to United Auto Workers on Thursday at the Community Building Complex in Belvidere.

People react as President Joe Biden speaks to United Auto Workers on Thursday at the Community Building Complex in Belvidere.

Evan Vucci

Thousands of jobs in the pipeline

The president emphasized his own history with union and working-class households in his home state of Delaware and his support of organized labor. In September, he became the first president to walk a picket line when he joined UAW strikers in Michigan. Biden said he didn’t realize the historical significance until after the occasion.

He said the strike’s outcome proves that companies that bargain in good faith can prosper while still providing higher wages and better benefits for an American workforce. “The iconic Big Three are still going to still lead the world in quality and innovation, because of you,” he said.

Biden also pointed to low unemployment and support for domestic manufacturing during his term, contrasting his record with factory shutdowns during the term of former President Donald Trump. Recent polls have shown Trump leading Biden in swing states.

“I hope you guys have a memory,” Biden told the crowd. “Where I come from, it matters.”

Officials of Stellantis, which has deferred comment on its UAW settlement pending the ratification vote, did not comment on Biden’s appearance or on their expectations for incentives at Belvidere.

The plant near Rockford will be retooled to produce a midsize truck in 2027, and adjacent property will get a battery plant for electric vehicles in 2028 — a key priority for the Pritzker administration. The work is expected to create at least 2,500 jobs and cost nearly $5 billion.

When Stellantis closed Belvidere last February, the company laid off 1,350 workers. The factory dates from 1965 and last produced Jeep Cherokees.

Big Biden fundraiser in Chicago

After the Belvidere event, Biden turned to political business in Chicago, taking aim at Trump in remarks at a fundraiser where he aimed to shore up support from mega-donors. Biden headlined a fundraiser at Ignite Glass Studios, 401 N. Armour St., hosted by Glen Tullman, CEO of Transcarent and a major Democrat donor.

Meanwhile, his campaign bought TV ad time during the Bears-Charlotte Panthers game as well as during local news shows to underscore the themes Biden raised in Belvidere about his policies creating jobs while slamming Trump for not standing with the auto workers. The ad also ran in Charlotte, North Carolina, during the game.

At the fundraiser, Biden praised Pritzker, one of his chief surrogates on the 2024 campaign trail, and said he was “looking forward to the convention in Chicago.”

Two recent polls, by CNN and The New York Times, show Biden struggling to outpace Trump in a rematch. Aware that campaign contributors might be concerned about this, Biden “reassured donors they’re not wasting their money on him,” according to a pool report. But he could still “screw up,” he then joked.

He also argued that the Democratic wins in Ohio, Kentucky and Virginia were not one-offs. “What happened on Tuesday is not unusual,” he said.

Biden’s campaign increasingly is focusing on Trump.

“We haven’t stopped winning, and he hasn’t stopped losing ... This guy can’t get tired of losing,” the president said.

“Maybe Donald Trump sees a dark and divisive future, but I don’t,” he said.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators rally Thursday at the corner of West Hubbard and North Armour streets near where President Joe Biden was attending a fundraiser.

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators rally Thursday at the corner of West Hubbard and North Armour streets near where President Joe Biden was attending a fundraiser.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere

Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters at Hubbard and Armour streets greeted Biden with jeers as he arrived at the fundraiser.

“Right now our demand is that ... Biden and Congress [have] the power to stop Israel,” said Hatem Abudayyeh, national chair of the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, which organized the protest. “We’re trying to threaten him with the fact that he could lose an election.”

Abudayyeh said Biden should leverage the aid the United States gives Israel to convince its leaders to end the attacks it began after the Hamas attacks on Israel. Biden has requested $14.3 billion to bolster Israel’s fight against Hamas.

While Biden has dismissed the possibility of a formal ceasefire, on Thursday the White House said Israel had agreed to put in place four-hour daily humanitarian pauses after pressure from the president.

But some protesters said the Biden administration’s efforts are too little and too late and that they’ll continue demonstrating until Biden supports ending the war.

Israeli officials estimate that Hamas militants still hold 239 hostages, including children and elderly people, from attacks that killed 1,400 people in Israel. U.S. officials say fewer than 10 Americans are among those held captive. More than 10,800 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza, including more than 4,400 children.

Contributing: AP

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