President Biden went to Michigan yesterday, at the invitation of UAW President Sean Fain, to walk the picket line with striking auto workers. This is an unprecedented show of support for union workers from an American president.
Former President Donald Trump, not invited and not welcomed by the UAW, will also go to Michigan today to speak to a group of union members likely selected by his campaign. Trump’s callous attempt to hoodwink union members into believing he supports them won’t work.
Trump’s trip to Michigan is not about his concern for workers; it is about his desire to be elected president again. In 2016, Trump won Michigan. According to exit polls, he only lost union households in the state to Hillary Clinton by a 13-point margin. The Trump vote of 40 percent among union household voters was only slightly higher than previous Republican presidential candidates had performed in the state. But Clinton scored much lower than Barack Obama’s 66 percent in 2012, John Kerry’s 61 percent in 2004, and Gore’s 62 percent in 2000 among union-household voters.
Clinton’s vote was so low because she took these voters for granted, barely spoke about them or to them, and never made an appearance at a union hall in Michigan in the general election — something all previous Democratic presidential candidates had done routinely. She also carried the residue of the disastrous trade policies of President Bill Clinton, and thus she had a muddled jobs message.
In addition, some local unions in Michigan, not believing that election was “about their members” never kicked into high gear with the kind of information campaign necessary to drive huge union-member support for their endorsed candidates. As a result of all of that, for union household voters in Michigan, 2016 was the perfect storm.
In 2020, Trump lost Michigan (and the White House). Biden won union households in the state by 62 to 37 percent, a 25-point margin. Since Trump won Michigan among non-union households, it is easy to argue that it was the strength of that 25-point margin among union voters that put Michigan in the Democratic column. In fact, Biden won union households by 12 points more than Clinton because he fought for their votes. He spoke directly to them and visited with union members in the plants, offices and union halls. He also ran on a strong pro-union, pro-worker agenda that they could connect with. The unions kicked into high gear to mobilize their members to vote for him.
In order to win the White House, Trump needs to win Michigan. In order to win Michigan, he needs push down Biden’s vote among union household voters to Clinton 2016 levels. Hence his visit to Michigan to try to drive a wedge between union members and their leaders, to try to scare autoworkers into believing that Biden’s electric vehicle policies will destroy their industry and their jobs.
It won’t work.
Biden’s and Trump’s records clearly demonstrate who is on the side of union workers. Trump was perhaps the most vehemently anti-union president in recent memory. He supported right-to-work laws that weaken unions and make it tougher for workers to win better pay, benefits and rights on the job. He also threatened to veto the Pro Act, legislation that levels the playing field by updating outdated labor laws and making it easier for workers to democratically vote for union representation.
Trump packed the Supreme Court with anti-union judges who have attempted to destroy public sector unions with decisions such as Janus, which unfairly allows public employees to opt out of being in their union but to enjoy the benefits of collective bargaining without paying for any of the costs. And he stacked the National Labor Relations Board, the government agency responsible for safeguarding the nation’s labor laws with anti-union members and an anti-union general counsel.
As president, Trump made it legal for companies that violate federal labor laws, including workplace safety protections, to be eligible for federal contracts. He also cut the number of Occupational Safety and Health inspectors to the fewest in history and weakened penalties for companies that fail to report violations. And Trump’s Administration also tried to weaken mine safety rules.
Trump wants to claim to be a friend to working people on the issue of trade, but he gave over $115 billion in federal contracts to companies that offshored jobs and he pushed a corporate tax cut that gave companies a whopping 50 percent tax break on their foreign profits, creating a financial windfall for them to move overseas.
Trump’s anti-union policies ran deep through his administration. He supported increased funding for the Office of Labor Management Standards at the Department of Labor, responsible for regulating unions, while cutting the budget of the National Labor Relations Board, responsible for enforcing the nation’s labor laws. And he issued executive orders to weaken federal employee unions and eliminate pay increases for federal government workers.
And Trump’s anti-union activity didn’t begin when he became president, either. His entire career as a developer and hotelier is littered with anti-union actions. For decades, Trump hotels have spent millions of dollars opposing their workers’ right to organize. And whenever Trump had the choice of having work performed by union or non-union workers, he always chose non-union contractors for construction projects.
Biden, in contrast, supports workers’ right to organize. He is now walking the picket line in one of the most critical union fights in decades. Pro-worker, pro-union provisions are present in virtually every proposal that comes from his administration. And while the UAW is rightfully demanding more from Biden on the issues around the transition to electric vehicles, battery production, union members’ job security and organizing, they know they have a partner in Biden who will listen and will strive to do what is right, as he has for his entire career.
The contrast between Trump and Biden could not be clearer. For nearly fifty years, one has consistently stood with union workers, and the other has undermined them at every turn. Trump is trying to sweep his disdain for unions under the rug and to bamboozle workers into thinking he has their best interests at heart. He will fail.
Steve Rosenthal, former political director of the national AFL-CIO, is president of In Union.
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