Without a concrete plan for recovery, auto workers worry they’ll be left “drifting in the wind.”
FLINT, MI — Art Reyes is an electrician at the General Motors assembly plant in Flint building medium- and heavy-duty Chevrolet and GMC trucks. He’s seen the way the pandemic and global trade policies have hurt the attempted auto industry recovery following the hard hits automakers took early in the pandemic.
“The coronavirus pandemic has really hit home because it’s shown how vulnerable our supply lines are,” said Reyes. “We’ve actually had production stop because we were not able to get parts from our suppliers.”
Reyes worked at Flint Delphi for over 25 years, longer than the plant was even called Flint Delphi. He had to transfer to working where he is now because of Delphi’s bankruptcy to save his pension. That makes him lucky, he said, because not everyone at Delphi could transfer, and they risk losing their pension.
“This has been something that impacted where I work, the very work that I do,” Reyes said. “We need to get help from somebody who cares about workers, who cares about manufacturing, who has a plan for the auto factories, and I see that in Vice President Biden.”
That’s why former Vice President Joe Biden will be getting Reyes’ vote in November.
“The economy being what it is right now due to the pandemic,” he added, “if we do not have a solid plan to see our way out then we’re just going to be drifting in the wind.”
What Joe Biden Promises Auto Workers
As part of his “Build Back Better” plan, Biden announced a series of government purchases, tax incentives and other measures designed to help the reignition of the auto industry. All told, he projects that those efforts will create over a million jobs for auto workers nationwide.
Biden also promised to use “all the levers of the federal government” to help automakers transition to electric vehicles, which includes bringing back a signature piece of the post-2008 auto industry revitalization, the Cash for Clunkers program. Car and Driver reports that the Biden proposal would provide incentives to trading in older cars for new, more energy-efficient electric vehicles made in America.
And he’d lead the effort by example, upgrading the federal government’s own fleet.
Biden isn’t the first person to float a revitalized Cash for Clunkers program, General Motors considered it as part of their own coronavirus recovery plans and Sen. Chuck Shumer (D-NY) also proposed legislation to that effect in Congress. But during his time as Vice President, Biden helped oversee the initial, and generally successful, Cash for Clunkers economic recovery program.
During that time, Biden and the Obama Administration dedicated significant resources to helping the auto industry weather the storm posted by the economic collapse of 2008. President Donald Trump famously opposed that support, suggesting that the auto industry should’ve gone bankrupt.
What Trump Promised Auto Workers
While on a 2016 campaign swing through Grand Rapids, Trump vowed to bring back the auto industry like never before. That never translated into policy, however. Bureau of Labor Statistic data shows auto industry jobs have declined since Trump took office.
“Trump campaigned as a friend to workers — he talked about a new direction and a new day after decades of policies left us poorer and weaker,” said AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka. “But over the past four years, the President showed his true colors.”
Trumka highlighted Trump policies like health and safety deregulation, slashing inspectors from the Occupational Health and Safety Administration and undermining collective bargaining.
In large part this is due to Trump’s policies on trade. As The ‘Gander reported, the regular engagement in trade wars on the part of the Trump administration has done significant harm to the supply chains automakers depend on, particularly as a result of tariffs on steel and aluminum. Manufacturing, and in particular automakers, carried financial burdens from those tariffs and retaliatory tariffs from other nations.
Even where Trump has made trade deals instead of trade wars, the benefits have been marginal and the costs have been high, reports the CATO Institute. In fact, Trump’s U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade deal, CATO argues, has actually been worse for the auto industry than its predecessor, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which created a continental platform for the auto industry and increased its global competitiveness.
“Michiganders are fed up with Donald Trump’s failed policies that have put the wealthy and well-connected first and Michigan’s workers last,” Eric Hyers, Michigan state director for Biden for President, told the Detroit News. “They’re ready for a president who tells them the truth, has their backs and knows what it will take to build our economy back better than it was before and create good-paying manufacturing jobs. That’s Joe Biden — and that’s a message we’re going to take directly to voters across Michigan.”