DETROIT – UAW President Dennis Williams says the union’s presidential endorsement will come “soon” and it won’t be Donald Trump despite support for the presumptive Republican nominee from more than a quarter of the organization’s membership.
Williams says rank-and-file support for Trump, which he reports came in at 28% in internal union surveys, is waning as members become more informed about Trump’s positions on labor and trade issues.
“He said what he would do is close plants here, move them to low-wage states to compete with Mexico and then when workers here wanted their jobs back he could get them at a lower wage,” Williams says. “I don’t know how that’s helping the middle class or how that’s helping the American worker, and it’s certainly not helping UAW members. That’s the wrong kind of leadership.”
Williams’ comments came during a wide-ranging press conference at the UAW Solidarity House here covering everything from Trump’s candidacy to his impressions of Tesla CEO Elon Musk. Mexico and its autoworkers also figured prominently. Here are some excerpts:
Williams won’t tip his hand, but says the union is ready to endorse its choice for president “soon” after reviewing membership surveys, conducting focus groups and studying comments and voting records of Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
“We’re at a point now that decisions are being made who we’re going to endorse,” Williams says, and once that endorsement is made, the UAW will present a united front and wholeheartedly support that choice. “Once we are in, we’re all in,” Williams says.
While Clinton holds a sizable lead, Williams says Sanders has raised a number of important issues related to trade inequities, racial disparities and the cost of college and student-loan debt.
The UAW considers NAFTA a mistake that occurred under Bill Clinton’s presidency, but says Hillary Clinton’s record reflects strong support for union issues as they relate to trade agreements.
“I don’t blame Hillary Clinton for that – that was Bill Clinton,” says Williams, tempering his criticism by noting the Clinton era was one of prosperity.
Trump and the GOP represent free trade, not fair trade and while Trump’s slogan “Make America Great Again” sounds positive, Trump hasn’t provided any detail.
“He believes the way to bring jobs back is to lower everybody’s wages, but part of the biggest issue in the United States today is inequity in wages,” Williams says. “So what is the detail of ‘making America great?’
“I don’t want a president that has a good line. I want a president who has a line with a detail. I want to know what the detail is. And he has avoided talking about the detail.”
Mexico and Musk
Comparing the plight of Mexican autoworkers to the apartheid struggle in South Africa, Williams promises a multi-pronged approach to solving the problem of companies moving automotive work to Mexico to take advantage of relatively low wage rates there.
He says the UAW will fight for revised trade agreements and free unions to improve conditions for Mexican autoworkers with the same vigor it applied to earlier social movements.
“Every so often our organization has to step up in tough situations and help out other countries, like we did in South Africa, or (help) groups of people, like we did in the civil rights movement,” Williams says. “We’re going to continue to do that and Mexico is part of that.
“Mexico would be a great trading partner if they had free unions and if they had the ability to raise people’s standards of living so that they can become a consumer, and not be used for slave labor.”
On the status of plant reshuffling by FCA US as it drops small-car production in favor of more trucks and SUVs, Williams says shifting still is going on but should be settled shortly with assurances of long-term job security for UAW workers at plants in Sterling Heights and Warren, MI, Toledo, OH, and Belvidere, IL.
With claims that it plans to produce 500,000 vehicles by 2018 at the former GM-Toyota joint-venture plant in California, Tesla is on the UAW radar. “We are very interested in Tesla and we have contacts out there,” Williams says.
While the union leader says he finds Tesla CEO Elon Musk a “passionate scientist,” Williams sounds a skeptical note in saying the niche automaker has yet to hit announced production goals.