Belvidere's Big Break: How UAW and Biden are Rewriting the Auto Industry's Fate

In a time where plant closures have become a distressing norm in the U.S. automotive industry, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union has kindled a rare beacon of hope.

by Faruk Imamovic
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Belvidere's Big Break: How UAW and Biden are Rewriting the Auto Industry's Fate
© Getty Images News/Scott Olson

In a time where plant closures have become a distressing norm in the U.S. automotive industry, the United Auto Workers (UAW) union has kindled a rare beacon of hope. The recent announcement of the reopening of the Belvidere, Illinois, assembly plant marks a significant victory for the union and the local community.

This development, heralded by U.S. President Joe Biden's presence at a UAW rally in Belvidere, underscores the importance of this event beyond its local impact. Belvidere, unlike the politically contested territories of Michigan and Ohio, may not be known for a dense concentration of auto plants, but its importance has been magnified in light of the UAW's recent labor negotiations with major automakers Stellantis, GM, and Ford.

These negotiations have been pivotal in preventing plant closures, a trend that has plagued the industry since the turn of the century.

A Turnaround for Workers and Community

The assembly plant in question, shuttered in February, left approximately 1,200 hourly workers in a dire situation—jobless or facing relocation from the rural city of 25,000, located about 70 miles west of Chicago.

However, in a move that industry consultant Jeff Schuster of GlobalData describes as "definitely unusual," the plant is slated for a revival. By 2027, it is expected to reopen as a hub for assembling a new midsize pickup truck.

In the interim, the facility will commence manufacturing batteries for electric vehicles and function as a parts depot. This provides a lifeline for the laid-off workers, who are presented with the option of partial pay, combined with unemployment benefits, ensuring they receive over 70% of their normal income.

The significance of this revival goes beyond economics. It's a story of resilience and community spirit, exemplified by UAW President Shawn Fain's remarks: “Nobody thought we could accomplish what we accomplished. Re-open Belvidere? Forget it”.

President Biden echoed this sentiment, reflecting on the closures of massive auto plants in Delaware, his home state. He highlighted the profound community impact of such closures, underscoring the importance of Belvidere's plant reopening not just as an economic milestone, but as a restoration of pride and stability in the community.

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