Whitmer defends Michigan autoworkers after Trump goes on anti-union tirade

Whitmer defends Michigan autoworkers after Trump goes on anti-union tirade

Photos: AP/Carlos Osorio & Andrew Harnik

By Kyle Kaminski

February 28, 2024

Ex-President Donald Trump lashed out against the United Auto Workers union after a six-week strike helped secure better benefits and wages for thousands of autoworkers.

MICHIGAN—Entering contract talks with Detroit’s big three automakers last summer, United Auto Workers (UAW) President Shawn Fain set some big goals for union workers—and he delivered on many of them, including better pay and benefits for thousands of Michigan workers.

But despite the recent progress for organized labor and record-breaking contracts for workers  as a result of the UAW’s six-week strike, ex-President Donald Trump has only one word to describe Fain’s leadership: “Terrible.”

The former president’s latest anti-union tirade came at the end of an interview on a conservative radio show in Detroit on Tuesday, where Trump attacked both Fain and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in his closing message to Michiganders ahead of this week’s presidential primary election.

“You have a terrible governor who sold you out, and you have a terrible head of the United Auto Workers—just absolutely atrocious,” Trump said. “They don’t put America first.”

Whitmer is currently serving as a co-chair of President Joe Biden’s re-election campaign, and Fain (and the UAW) recently endorsed Biden for a second term. Both have been vocal critics of Trump’s anti-union policies and a lack of support for union workers during his administration

In response to Trump’s attacks, Whitmer released a statement on Tuesday that described Trump’s latest anti-union rhetoric as “an attack on the progress we’ve made in our state.”

I can handle a hit,” Whitmer said. “I got your back. And I won’t stop fighting like hell for you.”

Trump’s Anti-Worker History

Trump’s history of criticizing labor unions began long before he was elected president.

He once said that he would’ve considered letting the automotive industry go bankrupt—costing hundreds of thousands of Michigan workers their jobs—during the Great Recession rather than provide a financial bailout to automakers like President Barack Obama did in 2009.

In another interview with the Detroit News in 2015, Trump also said that automakers could stop industry expansion to Mexico by moving some production out of Michigan to lower-wage states. 

And when asked directly whether he supports labor unions, Trump once said that he has had “great success” on projects both with and without union labor—but his preference is clear:

“If I had my choice,” he told voters in Iowa in 2015. “I think I’d take it without.’’

On the campaign trail in 2016, Trump also promised voters in Warren that none of the city’s auto manufacturing plants would close if he were elected. Less than a year later, General Motors announced a layoff of nearly half of its employees at a plant in Warren, which eventually closed.

A spokesperson for Biden’s campaign also said that five other Michigan factories were also shuttered during Trump’s presidency—resulting in the loss of over 200,000 jobs in the state.

“Donald Trump is attacking two of Michiganders’ greatest champions because he wants to distract from his anti-worker, anti-union, anti-freedom record,” said Alyssa Bradley, communications director for the Biden-Harris campaign in Michigan. “He incentivized companies to ship jobs overseas and lined the pockets of billionaires and corporations over those of working families. No amount of spiteful comments from Trump will change that.”

Biden, on the other hand, has billed himself as the most pro-union president in American history and virtually all of his most important legislation—including investments in infrastructure and clean energy manufacturing—have been priorities for Michigan’s unions, reports the Washington Post

And when Biden grabbed a bullhorn and joined workers on the UAW picket line last year, it marked the first time the president of the United States had stood in solidarity with striking workers.

“These contracts show that when unions do well, it lifts all workers,” Biden said in a statement after the new UAW union contracts were ratified last year. “The UAW is fighting hard to ensure that all auto jobs are good, middle-class jobs—and I stand with them in that fight.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

VIDEO: What do union workers think about Trump?

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  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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