Trump Makes Appeal to Unions Emboldened Under Biden Administration

Trump Makes Appeal to Unions Emboldened Under Biden Administration
President Joe Biden delivers a speech on NATO at the Vilnius University in Vilnius, Lithuania, on July 12, 2023, after the end of the NATO Summit. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images) / Former U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks during the Georgia state GOP convention at the Columbus Convention and Trade Center in Columbus, Ga., on June 10, 2023. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Catherine Yang

When former President Donald Trump released a campaign video outlining plans to boost the auto industry last Thursday, he took the opportunity to court the United Auto Workers (UAW), which has notably withheld its endorsement of President Joe Biden as contract negotiations continue and the threat of yet another strike looms.

While Mr. Trump’s appeal might have interested a few rank-and-file workers, it certainly wouldn’t have swayed union leadership.

“I think they feel emboldened,” said Mark Mix, of the union leadership. As president of the National Right to Work Foundation, Mr. Mix has watched labor negotiations closely over the years, and the tone they’ve taken on this year is unusual.

Unions routinely vote to authorize a strike ahead of negotiations, just to have it as a chip on the bargaining table, but the language union leaders have been using this summer has become “militant,” Mr. Mix said.

The Teamsters, which just reached a deal with UPS today, walked away from the table twice and announced intent, not just authorization, to strike on a historic scale over a month ahead of the end of the contract. Sean M. O'Brien, the newly elected president, had gone on CNN ahead of Tuesday’s negotiations to say of their tactics, “we strategize, we organize, now it’s time to pulverize.” He had asked the White House to not intervene if they went on strike.

The UAW, which began negotiations with the Big Three automakers last week as the current contract expires Sept. 14, has likewise made a lot of noise about its willingness to strike before talks even began.

“There is a new environment. These union officials feel empowered,” Mr. Mix said. “And I think one of the reasons that is the fact and why we’re seeing more of this saber-rattling is because the Biden administration ... basically has created an environment where the union officials think the Department of Labor, and the Department of Justice, and the National Labor Relations Board—which are the three agencies that would be involved and interested in in violence, intimidation, or violation of individual workers rights—that they’re controlled by the Biden administration.”

“Union officials feel like they’re emboldened by this White House and this administration to do basically whatever it takes to get what they’re demanding,” he said.

In Thursday’s video, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. Biden’s policies affecting the auto industry, referencing unsold electric vehicles “piling up on car lots” by the thousands.

“They are absolutely destroying your business,” Mr. Trump said of the government subsidies for electric vehicles at the expense of the market. “That’s why I’m going to terminate these Green New Deal atrocities on day one.”

He touted his track records on trade, including the NAFTA renegotiation, and how that benefited the auto industry. “I saved the auto industry once, and now I will save it again,” he said.

That same day, Mr. Biden visited a shipyard in Philadelphia to speak on “Bidenomics” and “clean energy” jobs.
“A lot of my friends in organized labor know: When I think climate, I think jobs. I think union jobs,” he said. “Here today, workers from nine different unions will start building a vessel called the Acadia. It’s going to place heavy rocks at the base of the offshore wind projects to stabilize them when they put these down, and it’s going to protect it against erosion.”

Where Are the Union Jobs?

Experts say that while the Biden administration benefits union leadership and is pro-unionization, it has a mixed record when it comes to rank-and-file workers.
Mr. Mix pointed to the cancellation of the Keystone XL Pipeline project, which was meant to bring tens of thousands of union jobs. He said the administration had also fanned the flames of possible strikes in other ways, including with its pandemic-era policies. Stimulus checks and unemployment gave many no reason to work, and UPS had to raise wages in order to increase its workforce.

“Everyone who has been working for UPS and was on the job was saying, ‘Wait a minute, how can somebody who has just started today make the same amount that I’m making?’ So that caused the demand for these wage increases, for the part-timers in particular,” Mr. Mix said.

F. Vincent Vernuccio, senior fellow at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy and the Center’s director of labor policy between 2012 and 2017, said that some of the UAW jobs could be going away because of the president’s push for electric vehicles.

He pointed to a recent report estimating that the new electric vehicle targets could eliminate 117,000 manufacturing jobs.
“You’re seeing it reflected in jobs moving down south to right-to-work states,” he said, referring to states that make forced unionization illegal. Employees who want to cross the picket line and work when unions have issued a strike have to do it legally, else face fines or other disciplinary action from the unions. He said that large, industrialized unions tend to have one-size-fits-all contracts that benefit some but not all workers, making the administration’s push for unionization where there was none before a net negative. He advocates instead for term flexibility for workers, unionized or not.

Of the jobs that are left, Mr. Mix says you can be sure the union leadership is demanding the Biden administration guarantee they will be union jobs.

“That’s what they’re demanding now, more privilege and more power,” Mr. Mix said.