Donald Trump criticized the Biden Administration during his visit to a United Auto Workers strike and told union members that negotiations with car manufacturers were pointless due to the country’s push to adopt electric vehicles.
Trump joined striking automaker employees in Detroit one day after President Biden made his own historical appearance, as both candidates look to garner support from working-class voters. The GOP candidate’s visit was arranged in lieu of attending the second Republican primary debate, earning him criticism from his fellow nominee contenders. While at the picket line, Trump told United Auto Workers members, “It doesn’t make a damn bit of difference what you get because in two years you’re all going to be out of business.” Rather than creating jobs in the U.S., he argued that electric vehicle production would be outsourced to other countries, adding, “They’re going to be building those cars in China and other places.”
The GOP candidate’s comments received a swift rebuke from the Biden campaign, who released the following statement during his visit: “Donald Trump is lying about President Biden’s agenda to distract from his failed track record of trickle-down tax cuts, closed factories, and jobs outsourced to China.” Fain has also called a second Trump presidency “a disaster” in a letter sent to United Auto Workers members earlier this year.
The Biden Administration has earned the ire of some UAW members for its push toward electrification and a perceived lack of support for unions. Because of this, labor chiefs in the automotive industry have so far declined to endorse the President, although United Auto Workers leader Shawn Fain commented on Tuesday that such decisions would be made “down the road.” However, the historically left-wing United Auto Workers organization did invite the White House to join striking employees, whereas Trump’s visit was made of his own accord and against recommendations.
On the issue of electric vehicles, both candidates have offered different solutions to union concerns. Trump has promised to undo the Biden Administration’s electrification efforts to preserve manufacturing jobs, removing various tax incentives and emissions standards designed to encourage automakers to abandon carbon-polluting models. However, in the President’s Inflation Reduction Act, many of the incentives criticized by the GOP candidate are only distributed to automakers who build EVs on American soil with materials sourced from U.S. suppliers. This has led to a surge in factory construction in the country as OEMs move to take advantage of these programs.
For United Auto Workers leaders, the primary concern has been less associated with the proliferation of electric vehicles and more focused on preventing ICE facility closures and employee layoffs. One way that car manufacturers could satisfy the union’s demands is by retooling current plants for EV production rather than building entirely new factories. Many ongoing construction projects are located in states with more prominent anti-union sentiments, which the UAW worries result in poorer working conditions and lower pay.
Ultimately, it remains to be seen which candidate’s message struck a stronger chord with United Auto Workers strikers, although this may not become evident until after the 2024 election. What should be readily apparent in the next few weeks is to which side the UAW’s leadership will lend their support. The GOP candidate’s remarks target ongoing frustrations with the current administration and its handling of the economy, as well as fears regarding the electric vehicle transition.
Trump’s solutions, however, do not seem to address several, arguably more critical demands in the union’s contract proposals, such as better pay, improved accommodations for temp workers and stronger benefits. This is to be expected, as these would require automakers to make concessions, which goes against the grain of his aggressively pro-business stances. The GOP candidate’s dismissal of the ongoing strike could easily be construed as anti-union by his critics.
In contrast, Biden was careful to use pro-labor messages during his visit, urging attendees to continue striking until all their demands were met. “The fact of the matter is that you guys, the UAW, you saved the automobile industry back in 2008,” he commented, speaking through a megaphone next to Fain. “You made a lot of sacrifices. You gave up a lot. And the companies were in trouble. Now they’re doing incredibly well and guess what? You should be doing incredibly well.”