Trump, Fain Trade Insults as UAW Continues Recruiting

UAW President Shawn Fain is coming under fire from Donald Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee, over the union’s endorsement of Democratic incumbent Joe Biden for re-election in November.

Joseph Szczesny

January 31, 2024

5 Min Read
UAW Local 551 rally Chicago 11-8-23 (Getty)
Members of UAW Local 551 in Chicago rally on Oct. 8, 2023, midway point of 46-day “Stand-Up Strikes” against Detroit Three automakers.

Amid verbal sparring between UAW President Shawn Fain and former President Donald Trump, the union says more than 10,000 auto workers have now signed union cards as it recruits new members from among nonunion automakers in the South and West.

“Our Stand-Up movement has caught fire among America’s auto workers, far beyond the Big Three,” Fain (pictured below, left) says of General Motors, Ford and Stellantis, with which the union won historic contracts last fall. “These workers are standing up for themselves, for their families and for their communities, and our union will have their back every step of the way.” 

The union signups are nearing a majority of the workforce at the Volkswagen of America plant in Chattanooga, TN, and at a Mercedes-Benz plant outside Tuscaloosa, AL, according to a union official familiar with the UAW effort but who is not authorized to speak publicly.

Fain screenshot.png

According to news reports based on emails from Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s office, the Republican worked hard to defeat the union’s efforts to unionize VW's Chattanooga plant in 2019. Lee even visited the complex to personally address workers on the plant floor in an effort to defeat unionization. Workers at that plant rejected the UAW that year in a vote, the second time the union was voted down since it opened.

In Alabama, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey has been speaking frequently against the UAW’s efforts. “We may soon face another watershed decision when the U-A-W asks nearly 50,000 Alabamians: Do you want continued opportunity and success the Alabama way? Or do you want out-of-state special interests telling Alabama how to do business? For me, the choice is clear,” Ivey wrote in an op-ed article.

The VW and Mercedes-Benz plants are emerging as key targets for the UAW’s drive to organize 13 foreign-owned, nonunion automakers from Arizona to South Carolina. The UAW narrowly missed organizing the VW plant in the past, says Harley Shaiken, a labor expert at the University of California-Berkeley, and has developed a core of pro-union supporters in the Mercedes-Benz plant during an earlier drive that also failed.

Fain and other UAW officials say they are changing their approach and giving pro-union employees a large role in persuading their colleagues in the nonunion plants to join the UAW, stressing they would earn more and gain greater protection with a union contract.

Amid the organizing campaign, which the union launched after it successfully mounted so-called Stand-Up Strikes against Detroit’s three automakers last fall, Fain is coming under fire from Trump, the likely Republican presidential nominee, over the UAW’s endorsement last week of Democratic incumbent Joe Biden for re-election in November.

Using his social media platform, Truth Social, Trump (pictured, below left) is attacking Fain for supporting Biden and the president’s promotion of electric vehicles. The former president says Fain “bought into Biden's ‘vision’ of all Electric Vehicles, which require far fewer workers to make each car but, more importantly, are not wanted in large numbers by the consumer, and will all be made in China.”

Trump with flags (Getty).jpg

Trump contends Chinese companies are “building in Mexico, the biggest plants anywhere, and selling their cars, Tariff Free, in the good ol’ USA. Shawn Fain doesn’t understand this or have a clue. Get rid of this dope & vote for DJT. I will bring the Automobile Industry back to our Country.” In fact, no Chinese automakers are currently manufacturing in Mexico, though there are news reports indicating they are scouting locations for possible plants.

Fain says in an interview on CBS News that the UAW traditionally has supported initiatives aimed at cleaning up the environment.

“I saw a statement 54 years ago in 1970, UAW President Leonard Woodcock was talking about (how) we needed to get away from the internal-combustion engine because it’s poisoning the environment. Look, the UAW has always been at the forefront of environmental issues, and of working-class issues,” Fain says.

“Naturally, there’s work that has to be done with the (EV) infrastructure and things like that. But no matter where this heads, I know one presidential candidate will be behind us. And that’s Joe Biden. And I know another one that could care less about it. And that’s Donald Trump,” Fain says.

“I believe the overwhelming majority of UAW members and working-class people, when the facts and the truth are put in front of them, will support Joe Biden for president. That’s why we made this decision…Joe Biden has a history of serving others, and serving the working class, and fighting for the working class, standing with the working class. Donald Trump has a history of serving himself and standing for the billionaire class. And that’s contrary to everything that working-class people stand for,” says Fain.

“Donald Trump calling Shawn Fain names is to be expected. It doesn’t hurt the UAW’s chances of organizing as Trump would criticize unions anyway,” says Arthur Wheaton, Director of Labor Studies at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Wheaton says in an email to WardsAuto that organizing workers at nonunion auto companies is extremely difficult. Many legal, political and financial hurdles stand in the way.

“If they get more than 50%-60% percent of signed cards (from among the total workforce) you may finally see some elections,” Wheaton says. “Organizing is done one person at a time. It is painfully slow but important work. I would not put the UAW’s chances at more than 50-50 this year.”

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