DETROIT – After seeing its endorsed candidate lose a tight race for the White House, the UAW hopes President-Elect Donald Trump will keep his promises to reopen trade deals such as NAFTA and scuttle the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Union President Dennis Williams tells reporters during a roundtable discussion at UAW headquarters in Detroit he is disappointed by the results of 2016 election.
“I think that everyone I talked to has been surprised by the outcome,” Williams says. “Democracy is never easy, and sometimes the outcome isn’t what you want. But it is democracy.”
For now, Williams says he wants to wait and see if a Trump presidency measures up to the candidate’s campaign rhetoric in which he promised to champion the “forgotten man.”
“I don’t see (Trump) as a traditional Republican president,” Williams says. “He made a lot of commitments to blue-collar workers about fairness. We’ll see how what he says compares to what he does. We’ll see.
“We’re going to try and work with him as much as we can, if he chooses. We are prepared to work with (Trump) on (improving) infrastructure and jobs because we think that’s pertinent to the economy.”
Williams seems surprised by the division within the UAW between those who had gone “all-out” to support Hillary Clinton, who won the union’s official endorsement in May, and those
who rejected the Democratic nominee. He notes in Macomb County, home to 15,000 active union members, many supported Clinton challenger Bernie Sanders in the primaries before going on to vote for Trump.
Williams estimates more than one-third of the UAW’s 425,000 members voted for Trump, and the proportion of members over 50 probably were even more likely to vote for the Republican.
The union will survey its membership about the election, Williams says. “I am very interested in what drove them” to support Trump, he says. “That’s fascinating.”
Yet Williams seemingly answers his own question by noting Trump’s stance on what he called trade agreements harmful to U.S. interests resonated with union members.
“We’ve always been critical of trade deals,” the union leader says. “(Trump) surely captured the idea of working families’ frustration. Hillary Clinton got blamed for NAFTA and Donald Trump had a good message on how NAFTA has disrupted their lives and destroyed their jobs.
“They’re angry. I understand that anger. I may not agree with the way they voted, but I understand their anger.
“NAFTA is a huge problem. I think his position on trade is right on. I think that companies ought to build where they sell. When I look at the amount of money that General Motors, Ford, Toyota and Nissan are putting in Mexico while the majority of the products are being sent back up here are taking jobs away from our country and our communities…I think there should be consequences.”
Tariffs on imports as promised by Trump, might not work because they invite retaliation, Williams says. “Trade between nations is a fact of life,” he says, but adds, “I am prepared to sit down with President-Elect Trump any time he wants” to discuss trade issues.
NAFTA Common Enemy
The UAW launched its campaign against NAFTA months before it narrowly won congressional approval in 1994 with support from a coalition that included a majority of Republicans as well as West Coast Democrats. Over the past quarter-century, the UAW has continued to attack NAFTA and probably helped lay the groundwork for Trump’s attack this year, Williams acknowledges.
“We have always been very critical about trade agreements that did not protect American jobs, and American workers, and have been very vocal on it and very tough on it,” he says.
Williams says Clinton promised to him during the Democratic National Convention that she would reopen discussion of NAFTA. Yet Trump had greater success leveraging the trade issue in Rust Belt states such as Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, where Clinton was outpolled by a little more than 100,000 votes combined.
“It was a message that was resonating with our members,” Williams says.
Clinton also failed to capitalize on positive accomplishments such as the government bailouts of General Motors and the former Chrysler Group, which ultimately saved thousands of jobs throughout the Rust Belt, he notes.
On the issue of regulation, Williams cautions GM, Ford and Chrysler successor FCA, which employ UAW members, against rushing to roll back fuel-economy standards set by the Obama Admin.
“They’ve got to invest in efficiency. If they don’t, somebody else will, and there goes their market,” Williams says. “There is a public out there that is very conscious of the environment,” he says, noting young consumers’ attitudes in particular.
“I would caution the auto industry not to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Williams also is waiting to see if Trump’s choice for Secretary of Labor will reflect the billionaire real-estate developer has turned Republican orthodoxy upside-down on a number of issues. But he promises a fight if House or Senate GOP members attack organized labor.
“If they target any trade union or any group, we’re prepared to take on anybody,” Williams says. “We’re not going to back down.
“We’re going to protect our traditional values and we’ll try to raise the awareness of organized labor in this country and around the world. We’re not going to change who we are as a union.”