United Auto Workers members march in Detroit following their decision to go on strike on Friday. The strike is the first time in history that the union has targeted all three Detroit automakers at once.
Former President Donald Trump will host a rally with union members next week during the second Republican presidential debate, making him the first 2024 candidate on either side to travel to Detroit to woo striking autoworkers.
The move, reported by The New York Times on Monday evening, is Trump’s attempt to seize on the United Auto Workers’ historic strike against the nation’s Big Three automakers. He hopes to peel blue-collar support away from President Joe Biden in the next election, which is shaping up to be a rematch between the former and current presidents.
The UAW, which endorsed Biden in 2020, hasn’t weighed in yet on next year’s contest, though UAW President Shawn Fain has made it clear that backing Trump is not on the table. He responded to news of Trump’s plans on Tuesday morning with derision, stating: “Every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers.”
Trump argues that Biden’s policies subsidizing a transition to electric vehicles (EVs) are a threat to domestic auto jobs, while Biden frames his administration’s push for EVs as critical to the fight against climate change, as well as to the United States’ long-term economic competitiveness. Biden has sought to make it easier for EV production workers to unionize, though many of the new EV plants are in the anti-union South.
As a result, the UAW supports the transition to EVs but is concerned that the new EV production sector will provide pay and benefits that are considerably lower than the legacy part of the industry. As part of the strike, the union hopes to eventually incorporate the joint ventures that the Detroit-based carmakers are using to erect their EV operations into their national “master” contract.
While his opponents meet Sept. 27 to debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, Trump’s campaign is planning a 500-person rally with autoworkers, as well as electricians, pipe fitters, plumbers — members of building trades unions who aren’t on strike but who generally lean more conservative than autoworkers and members of public-sector unions. Starting Tuesday, his campaign will also air radio ads in the Detroit and Toledo, Ohio, media markets that target union autoworkers.
Biden’s reelection campaign dismissed Trump’s Detroit rally as a “self-serving photo-op.”
Donald Trump is going to Michigan next week to lie to Michigan workers and pretend he didn’t spend his entire failed presidency selling them out at every turn.Ammar Moussa, spokesperson for Joe Biden's reelection campaign
“Donald Trump is going to Michigan next week to lie to Michigan workers and pretend he didn’t spend his entire failed presidency selling them out at every turn,” Ammar Moussa, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign, said in a statement. “Instead of standing with workers, Trump cut taxes for the super-wealthy while auto companies shuttered their doors and shipped American jobs overseas.
“He’s said he would’ve let auto companies go bankrupt, devastating the industry and upending millions of lives,” Moussa added. “That’s why Trump lost Michigan in 2020 and his MAGA friends further decimated the Michigan Republican Party and cost them 2022.”
The UAW strike, which began Friday, is the first time that the storied union has confronted all three manufacturers at once, forcing even prominent Republicans, who generally shy away from labor issues, to weigh in on the dispute.
While Biden, who has campaigned as the most “pro-union president in history,” endorsed the strikers’ demands that “record profits mean record contracts,” the GOP presidential candidates have largely sidestepped those demands and the issue of labor policy more broadly. They have instead used the strike as an opportunity to ding Biden’s handling of energy policy and the economy.
Their critiques of Biden fall into two broad categories. Most of the contenders are seizing on the strike as evidence that Biden’s policies encouraging a transition to electric vehicles, as well his record on inflation and effort to guide industrial development in the country, are hurting workers and deepening the United States’ dependence on China. At the same time, some of the candidates are reacting with the GOP’s traditional hostility to organized labor, arguing that unions’ demands destroy jobs.
Then-President Donald Trump speaks to union workers at a Shell plant in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, on Aug. 13, 2019. Biden's campaign says Trump's planned rally with UAW members next week will be a "self-serving photo-op."
Former President Donald Trump
Trump declined to pick sides in the UAW’s fight with management. “I’m on the side of making our country great,” he said in his Sunday interview on NBC News’ “Meet the Press.”
But Trump has also consistently argued that he would be a better president for the union members’ interests by ending the Biden administration’s subsidies for the development of electric vehicles, a sector of the automobile manufacturing industry where the UAW faces an uncertain future.
“The autoworkers are not going to have any jobs when you come right down to it because if you take a look at what they’re doing with electric cars, electric cars are going to be made in China,” he said on “Meet the Press.” “The autoworkers are being sold down the river by their leadership, and their leadership should endorse Trump. The reason is you’ve got to have choice ― like in school, I want school choice. I also want choice for cars. If somebody wants gasoline, if somebody wants all electric, they can do whatever they want.”
Ramaswamy, whose support for fossil fuels is enshrined in the 10 truths he recites at every campaign rally, has said that he sympathizes with the striking workers but they should be protesting against Biden instead of their employers.
“I think the UAW strike is misplaced, but I understand where they’re coming from. Who they should really be striking against is President Biden,” Ramaswamy said Friday on CNBC. This is a president whose policies have ensured inflation, over 16% cumulative inflation, since he took office.”
A successful investor, Ramaswamy also seized on the strike to play up the business model of Elon Musk, the increasingly conservative CEO of the non-union manufacturer of Tesla electric vehicles.
“Prediction: Big Auto CEOs will soon beg Congress for larger EV subsidies, citing higher costs post the UAW strike as their justification,” Ramaswamy wrote in a Sunday post tagging Musk on X, the social media app that Musk purchased when it was called Twitter. “They’ll point to [Elon Musk] as their boogeyman when really they just need to run their companies more efficiently & compete. Evolve or die.”
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) said of the strike, "When you have the most pro-union president and he touts that he is emboldening the unions, this is what you get."
Former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley
Haley over the weekend blamed the UAW strike on Biden and unions that feel motivated by the current political climate. She suggested that saddling the carmakers with additional costs would drive up prices for consumers.
“When you have the most pro-union president and he touts that he is emboldening the unions, this is what you get,” Haley told Fox News host Neil Cavuto on Saturday. “And I’ll tell you who pays for it is the taxpayers. … The union is asking for a 40% raise; the companies have come back with a 20% raise — I think any of the taxpayers would love to have a 20% raise and think that’s great. The problem is we’re all going to suffer from this. This is going to cause things to go up. This is going to last a while.”
The former South Carolina governor has never been a union ally. Haley made it clear throughout her time leading the Palmetto State that unionized workforces were not welcome on her watch, a stance that contributed to the UAW being unable to gain much of a foothold in the South.
South Carolina is home to a massive BMW manufacturing facility that employs 11,000 people and is famously not unionized. The company undertook a major expansion while Haley was governor, making it the company’s largest U.S. manufacturing site — and one of the biggest auto factories without a union.
As governor, Haley also opposed attempts to unionize Boeing’s South Carolina plant, where the company, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, manufactures its Boeing 787 aircraft. After serving in the Trump administration, the former ambassador to the United Nations joined Boeing’s board of directors. Haley remained on the board for roughly a year before resigning over the company’s acceptance of government relief during the coronavirus pandemic.
Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina
Scott, who hails from the same anti-union stomping grounds as Haley, suggested that the UAW’s demands reflect a kind of laziness.
“We’re watching today, on every screen around the country, we’re seeing the UAW fight for more benefits and less hours working,” Scott said at a manufacturing roundtable Friday in Iowa. “More pay and fewer days on the job. It’s a disconnect from work.”
Scott appears to be referencing the UAW’s call for a four-day workweek. But the union is also asking for pay increases of about 40% over four years, a shorter transition out of the industry’s current two-tier pay system and more influence over the compensation of workers in the nascent electric vehicle industry.
This push on electric vehicles, the demand that they do it this way, are causing all kinds of consternation inside the auto industry, and that affects how they get to deal with their own labor, and how they pay them and what kinds of profits they’re making.Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Florida’s governor hasn’t yet commented publicly about the UAW strike, but DeSantis has been labeled anti-union for signing a bill in May that bans the automatic deduction of union payments from the paychecks of public-sector workers and allows these workers to leave unions at any time for no reason.
The bill, however, exempted police officers, correctional officers and firefighters, all groups that tend to lean more conservative.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie
The former Garden State chief executive, a fierce opponent of teachers unions, pinned blame for the strike on the Biden administration’s encouragement of electric vehicle production.
“The Biden administration is deciding corporate policy. It’s the same thing the DeSantis administration is doing in Florida regarding Disney and other corporations,” Christie said earlier this month on CNBC, before the strike had begun. “This push on electric vehicles, the demand that they do it this way, are causing all kinds of consternation inside the auto industry, and that affects how they get to deal with their own labor, and how they pay them and what kinds of profits they’re making.”
Christie said the UAW and the country’s Big Three automakers — Ford, General Motors and Stellanis (formerly Chrysler) — should resolve their negotiations without the government “dictating” wages or vehicle costs.
“What a president would need to do is make sure he’s understanding both sides of that argument and putting the type of political pressure on them to come to a resolution,” Christie said.
As New Jersey governor, Christie won the support of private-sector unions, some of which, like the Building Trades Unions, lean more conservative. But he frequently tussled with the teachers.
Christie in 2016 compared New Jersey’s teachers unions to a Mafia family during a signing of education bills. A year earlier, he called them “the single most destructive force in public education in America” after spending much of his tenure negotiating with teachers over pension reforms and his efforts to claw back benefits.
President Joe Biden speaks with Ford Executive Chairman William Clay Ford Jr. (center) and then-UAW President Ray Curry in September 2022.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson
Hutchinson hasn’t said much publicly about the UAW or his position on unions.
But as The New York Times pointed out, Hutchison joined 17 other governors in opposing a Biden administration rule requiring collective bargaining in federal construction projects before leaving office at the beginning of this year.
Arkansas isn’t home to any of the major automakers. But it does have one plant that produces electric commercial vehicles and claims to employ more than 800 non-unionized workers.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum
Burgum, a tech billionaire at the helm of an oil-rich state, said at a campaign stop in New Hampshire on Monday that the UAW strike is understandable in light of Biden’s support for transitioning to electric vehicles.
“I’m the least surprised guy in the world that this is happening because it’s not just about wages. This is about a battle about the future of American transportation,” Burgum said. “And the union workers are going, ‘Wow, if we’re going to switch to all EVs, we’re going to have less jobs. We’re going to switch to all EVs … we’re going to be dependent on China for our transportation needs.’ And that’s at the heart of what this discussion is, because they understand what’s happening.”
Rather than subsidize production of electric vehicles, Burgum said that the country should follow North Dakota’s plan to transition to renewable energy.
“The only state that set a goal to be carbon neutral by 2030 is North Dakota. And we’re all about energy. We can decarbonize liquid fuels. We can put decarbonized fuels in an internal combustion machine. We don’t have to change out everything.”