BELVIDERE, Ill. (WLS) -- President Joe Biden met with the United Auto Workers in Belvidere, Ill. as well as UAW President Shawn Fain, whose all-important political endorsement he's hoping to get, and Gov. JB Pritzker.
While, as usual, whenever the president goes anywhere a group of protesters will invariably follow, inside the even there were nothing but smiles and cheers from a crowd who have gotten the best news after spending most of the year out of a job.
Biden flew into Chicago Rockford International Airport Thursday morning. There, he met with Pritzker, who tweeted "Always great to have you back in the Land of Lincoln, @POTUS."
Supporters and protesters lined the street in Belvidere leading up to the building where Biden spoke. Trump supporters and a group calling for a ceasefire in Gaza could be seen.
One person shouted out, calling for a ceasefire, as Biden began to speak on the UAW deal Thursday afternoon.
Walking onto the stage, Biden ditched the suit jacket in favor of a UAW t-shirt, a move that only generated more cheers from a crowd composed of mainly UAW workers and their families, grateful that their jobs, which had been lost more than eight months ago, will soon come back.
"The opening in Belvidere again is a gigantic deal, as far as I'm concerned," Biden told the crowd.
As part of a deal reached with Stellantis, the automaker has agreed to reopen the Assembly Plant in Belvidere, bringing back thousands of jobs and billions in investment. The company will also add another new battery plant in Belvidere.
"I told my team let Stellantis know Belvidere is a priority, and I got on the phone and let them know firsthand it was a priority," the president said.
Last February, when Belvidere's Stellantis assembly plant went idle. More than 1,300 workers were laid off, uncertain about what was to come.
"I don't want to go through all the unemployment stuff and everything. I'm probably just going to retire and be done with it," Josse Grant said.
For Belvidere itself, the return of the Stellantis plant is, needless to say, a big deal. The mayor has been advocating for its return since the idling was first announced nearly one year ago.
"I'm an optimist at heart, but I did always believe that Belvidere offered the same incentives than it did originally when Chrysler located here in 1965. And we have manufactured automobiles since then -- 58 years," Belvidere Mayor Clint Morris said.
While the new UAW contract has yet to be ratified by the union membership, the deal, as it regards to Belvidere, will see the plant, which used to manufacture the Jeep Cherokee, transition to building a new mid-size SUV.
Between the return of the plant and the new EV battery plant, more than twice as many jobs will return to the city as those lost when the Belvidere plant first closed.
"Just to know that my family can stay intact. And my friends can stay in the community. Stay intact. This was a hard one. I've been at Belvidere. Belvidere is my home plant. I didn't want to leave. Didn't want to leave," said Tamnara Coffeeman-Baker, laid of UAW worker.
Biden is also touting his administration's electric vehicle agenda.
"You can see in Belvidere what the future of the industry will look like. They're going to be hiring about 2,500 workers to focus on building mid-size SUVs and over 1,000 workers to build batteries for electric vehicles," Labolt said.
Hundreds of thousands of auto workers live in swing states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
After visiting Belvidere, President Biden is expected to head to Chicago where he will make a brief appearance at a fundraiser at an undisclosed location before heading back to Washington D.C. just after 6 p.m.
In a statement, Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth said:
"While I cannot welcome them in person, I am pleased to have President Biden and UAW President Shawn Fain visit Belvidere today ahead of the plant's reopening. Shawn was an unwavering advocate for Belvidere, keeping his word that the future of this plant must be included in any deal struck with Stellantis. The restarting of Belvidere Assembly Plant is a win for our state, our economy, and the workers who will come back to the plant with a higher hourly wage," Durbin said. "The future of the electric vehicle industry starts here in Illinois. I will continue to fight for the federal resources needed to properly invest in the electric vehicle industry, as well as for the working class."
"The tentative agreement between Stellantis and UAW and the proposed investment in Belvidere that would create more than 1,000 jobs included in that agreement are good for working families, good for manufacturing and good for Illinois-so I'm pleased to see President Biden and UAW President Shawn Fain visiting Belvidere today to reinforce those facts," Duckworth said. "The future of manufacturing doesn't mean fewer workers, the future of manufacturing depends on the power of our workforce. Illinois is ready to lead our nation and the world into the future, and I'm committed to doing everything I can from the federal level to help ensure Illinois has the resources and support needed for these advancements."