UAW Leader Suggests Union Will Back Clinton for U.S. President

  • Labor group won’t support Trump after pushing low-wage states
  • Organization is interested in organizing Tesla factory

United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams said his union won’t endorse Donald Trump for U.S. president, all but assuring support for Hillary Clinton as she closes in on the Democratic nomination.

Williams said the UAW will wait until the conclusion of the Democratic primary before endorsing a candidate. Clinton has 2,293 delegates to 1,533 for rival Bernie Sanders, according to data compiled by the Associated Press. Clinton needs only 90 of the remaining 939 unallocated delegates to lock up the nomination, according to the AP’s data.

The UAW could help Clinton by cajoling its 1 million workers and retirees to vote and campaign for her in the industrial Midwest, where she struggled against Sanders in the primary elections. The union’s big issues are trade and income equality, which Sanders successfully used to win votes in current and former auto-producing states Michigan, Indiana and Wisconsin.

While Williams stopped short of making an endorsement on Thursday, he said the union’s executive board likes Clinton and Sanders and won’t support Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee. Williams also exonerated her from blame for the trade agreements enacted by her husband, former President Bill Clinton. He signed the North American Free Trade Agreement, or Nafta, which has been a sore point with the union ever since.

“He made a bad mistake with Nafta,” Williams told reporters at the union’s Solidarity House headquarters in Detroit. “It has been very harmful to us. I don’t blame Hillary. That was Bill.”

Blue-Collar Battle

While Trump’s criticism of automakers investing in Mexico resonates with autoworkers, his suggestion that companies shift manufacturing to lower-wage states undermines the union’s efforts to preserve compensation for members in states like Michigan and Ohio.

“He said he would close plants here and move jobs to lower-wage states,” Williams said. “How does that help the middle class?”

The UAW has lost political influence as its membership has declined, but it still can help a candidate. Clinton, the former secretary of state, has sought to woo middle-class voters by taking on corporations like Milwaukee-based auto parts supplier Johnson Controls Inc. over a merger that would shift its tax base to Ireland. But Sanders appealed to many blue-collar voters by highlighting her support from Wall Street banks and her husband’s approval of free-trade deals.

Even Trump has appeal to some workers. Williams said 28 percent of UAW members said in an internal union survey that they supported the real estate mogul in his presidential bid. He believes that support is declining since Trump made his comments to the Detroit News about moving jobs to lower-wage states.

Benefit Balance

The union has been struggling to find a balance between getting higher wages for its members and keeping workers competitive with factories overseas.

Labor agreements ratified last year with General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and FCA US LLC, the North American unit of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, gave raises to entry-level workers, who start at lower pay and with less-valuable benefits. While allowing new workers to reach to the top pay scale, the contracts didn’t prohibit automakers from investing in places like Mexico, particularly to make smaller, less-expensive cars, and importing models from China.

That stunts growth of union membership at U.S. auto plants and leaves the UAW more reliant on sales of pickups and sport utility vehicles. The UAW, contending with a recent right-to-work law in Michigan, is now focused on organizing workers in other industries and at U.S. plants owned by foreign automakers like Volkswagen AG to get more members, Williams said.

FCA said it will stop making its Dodge Dart compact and Chrysler 200 mid-sized cars and focus its U.S. production on Jeep SUVs and other larger vehicles. Ford has said it will stop building its Focus compact in Michigan; that work will go to Mexico, said a person familiar with Ford’s plans. Autoworkers in 2013 earned $8.24 an hour on average in Mexico, compared with $37.62 in the U.S., according to the Center for Automotive Research.

Testing Tesla

Separately, Williams said the UAW is interested in organizing workers at Tesla Motors Inc.’s electric-car assembly plant in Fremont, California. Williams said he met with Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk five years ago and and brought up the subject.

Williams, who declined to characterize Musk’s reply, said he didn’t try organize the company because it was a startup at the time.

“We have contacts at Tesla,” Williams said. “We are very interested in Tesla.”

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