Business

Why Biden and Trump Are Courting Striking Autoworkers

The political stakes grow as the U.A.W. strike drags on.Credit…Brittany Greeson for The New York Times

Biden and Trump bid for blue collar votes

In an extraordinary show of support, President Biden plans to join striking autoworkers on the picket line in Michigan on Tuesday. It comes a day before Donald Trump is expected to speak to union members in Detroit instead of participating in the second Republican primary debate.

The competing visits come as the two home in on battleground states ahead of next year’s election. But their appearances also reveal a political battle to become the voice of blue collar workers at a time when both candidates are struggling to win over mainstream voters and even some within their own parties.

Bidenomics is a conundrum for the president. Biden says he is “the most pro-union president in American history” and has overseen one of the biggest industrial policy shifts in decades through the Inflation Reduction Act, offering billions of dollars in subsidies to create new manufacturing jobs in a push to greenify the economy.

But the president is getting little credit from voters. Approval ratings for his economic management are at career lows. And the I.R.A. is somewhat troublesome for him: It includes incentives for automakers to make more electric vehicles, which labor leaders say will depend on non-union jobs and require fewer workers.

The United Automobile Workers union has held back from endorsing Biden. The group was an early supporter of his economic road map but broke with other big unions. “The EV transition is at serious risk of becoming a race to the bottom,” Shawn Fain, the U.A.W. president, wrote to members in May.

Trump sees an opportunity to hammer Biden and the U.A.W. Trump, whose track record as a businessman and president often backed business over labor, will speak directly to workers, aiming to project himself as a protector of jobs. He has called the federal push for electric vehicles a “catastrophe for Michigan” that would cost American jobs, benefit China and raise prices for consumers.

Fain has said Trump would be a “disaster” if re-elected. But the former president’s rhetoric and policies like rewriting trade agreements have appealed to some union members.

Union votes could prove decisive in 2024. Trump won Michigan in 2016, but Biden took the state by more than 150,000 votes in 2020. In crucial swing states, even wooing a relatively small portion could be crucial. “In a strike situation, they’re all going out because they’re supporting their own economic interests,” said Alexander Colvin, the dean of Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. “That doesn’t mean they all think the same thing politically.”

HERE’S WHAT’S HAPPENING

The F.C.C. is reportedly set to reinstate net neutrality rules. The regulator will revive Obama-era limits on broadband providers’ ability to unfairly interfere with internet traffic, after Democrats finally gained a majority among its commissioners, according to Bloomberg. Companies including AT&T and Comcast are likely to push back, arguing that such rules would be a big burden.

All eyes are on striking actors as screenwriters prepare for a vote on their labor deal. Leaders of the Writers Guild of America are to vote on their tentative pact with studios on Tuesday, with members set to weigh in soon. But there are few signs that an agreement with the SAG-AFTRA actors’ union is close, meaning that Hollywood will remain largely shut for now. Meanwhile, SAG-AFTRA members voted to authorize a strike against video game companies.

Fossil fuel use needs to fall more quickly to contain global warming, the International Energy Agency says. Adoption of cleaner energy technologies like electric vehicles and solar is growing, but the use of fossil fuels must shrink faster to avoid a climate catastrophe, the agency said in its latest report. Some industry watchers said that the I.E.A. is still too optimistic about the decline in demand for oil and coal.

Senator Bob Menendez says he won’t resign. The New Jersey Democrat, accused of taking bribes, said he’d fight the corruption charges leveled by federal prosecutors. He didn’t address questions about bars of gold found on his property, but asserted that the $550,000 in cash found stuffed around his home was merely part of an emergency fund.

Growth concerns hit the bond market

Alarm bells are ringing for markets on both sides of the Atlantic. Investors have again sold off their sovereign bond holdings, especially Treasury notes and German bunds, pushing yields to highs last seen in 2007 just before the housing crisis and in 2011 during the European debt crisis.

Growth concerns appear to be the culprit. Global trade fell in July at its fastest pace since the summer of 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic snarled global markets. According to the newest World Trade Monitor report, the decline is the latest signal that global demand for goods is deteriorating, as inflation and high interest rates remain at multi-decade highs.

Jamie Dimon added fuel to the pessimistic outlook. The C.E.O. of JPMorgan Chase warned of a kind of worst-case scenario in which the Fed is forced to keep raising its benchmark lending rate to combat inflation, further blunting growth. “I am not sure if the world is prepared for 7 percent,” he said in an interview with The Times of India, referring to the federal funds rate.

Fed policymakers themselves don’t see such a scenario playing out. They released a forecast last week suggesting that one more interest rate increase was in the cards this year, and possibly two cuts next year, which would keep interest rates at around 5 percent by the end of 2024. But since the Fed meeting, the futures market has been pricing in higher policy rates for longer, and that’s adding volatility to the bond market.

A potential U.S. government shutdown is also unnerving investors. The prospect that lawmakers will fail to reach a deal by Saturday’s deadline to fund the government is weighing on stocks, with U.S. futures in the red this morning. On Monday, Moody’s, the ratings agency, said a shutdown could lead it to downgrade the country’s credit rating — a warning that the White House seized upon in hopes of compelling the warring Republican factions to break their impasse on spending cuts.

The good news: The uncertainty has put a lid on the oil rally, with Brent crude falling below $91 a barrel this morning, a two-week low.


1.5 trillion

— Gallons of water used in fracking by oil and gas companies in the U.S. since 2011. That’s equivalent to the amount of tap water used by the state of Texas each year, according to a Times investigation. The boom in fracking to meet growing energy demand poses a threat to the country’s aquifers, researchers say.


ChatGPT, can you take on Alexa?

Hours after Amazon announced a big bet on an artificial intelligence start-up — and days after it revealed plans to make its Alexa digital assistant smarter — one of the most prominent names in the A.I. race unveiled its plan to surpass those advancements.

OpenAI said its ChatGPT chatbot can now listen to users’ spoken requests and respond vocally, among other new capabilities. It’s a reminder of how fast the race to advance A.I. is moving — and how high the stakes are.

Voice is a more natural way of interacting with ChatGPT, according to OpenAI executives, who also said that their chatbot will feature voices that sound more natural than those of existing digital assistants. (The Times says that the voices sound better, but still come across as a little robotic.)

OpenAI is adding other features to ChatGPT, including image recognition. One example that OpenAI demonstrated: Share an image of a bicycle with the chatbot and it will instruct the user how to lower the seat.

Amazon seems aware of the risks of being outpaced by rivals. Unlike Alexa or Siri, which require users to ask specific commands, the latest version of ChatGPT is capable of more conversational interactions, including follow-up questions and clarifications. Wider adoption of that chatbot could risk Amazon losing its longtime dominance in the market for personal assistants.

The Alexa announcement last week, in which Amazon said that it was incorporating the large language model technology into its assistant, is meant to address that eventuality — though ChatGPT’s new capability will be available sooner.

With new capabilities come worries about new dangers. OpenAI executives said that they won’t let ChatGPT identify faces, though the software will be able to talk at length about other pictures it’s asked to analyze. There’s also the risk that greater use of ChatGPT will lead to potential mishaps involving the well-known A.I. weakness of inventing facts, known as hallucinating.

And Amazon, perhaps leery of the well-publicized hitches that Microsoft and Google suffered in rolling out advanced A.I. features to the wider public, is making the new Alexa features available initially only to some users in the U.S.

  • In other A.I. news: Meet the human workers training A.I. systems. Spotify says it won’t ban A.I.-produced music, but it will work with OpenAI to clone podcasters’ voices to produce versions of their shows in other languages. And New York Magazine asks whether Sam Altman, OpenAI’s C.E.O., is the Robert Oppenheimer of the digital age.

THE SPEED READ

Deals

  • American Airlines appealed a federal court ruling that blocked its planned alliance with JetBlue. (Reuters)

  • Vista Equity Partners now oversees more than $100 billion in assets, reflecting investor interest in the big tech deals that are the firm’s stock in trade. (Axios)

  • What’s at stake as Disney and Comcast prepare to negotiate over the value of the streaming service Hulu, which they jointly own. (FT)

Policy

  • Tesla is reportedly a focus of European regulators’ inquiry into state subsidies for electric vehicles made in China. (Bloomberg)

  • The Commerce Department has hired veterans of Wall Street firms including Goldman Sachs and KKR to help run its semiconductor funding program. (Bloomberg)

Best of the rest

  • San Francisco residents say that their city is being unfairly pilloried as a decaying, crime-ridden metropolis. (NYT)

  • Microsoft is looking to power its A.I. and cloud data centers with small nuclear reactors. (CNBC)

  • How companies are pulling off four-day workweeks. (WSJ)

  • “The End of Privacy is a Taylor Swift Fan TikTok Account Armed with Facial Recognition Tech” (404 Media)

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