Former President Donald Trump

Former President Donald Trump speaks at an event on September 15, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

(Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Trump's Viciously Anti-Worker Record in the Spotlight Ahead of Detroit Trip

"Every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers," said UAW president Shawn Fain.

Posturing as a friend and ally of the working class, former President Donald Trump is planning to travel to Detroit next week amid the historic United Auto Workers strike against General Motors, Ford, and Stellantis.

But during his four years in power, Trump took an openly hostile stance toward workers, stacking the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) with anti-union officials, gutting Labor Department regulations aimed at protecting workers' wages and benefits, and nominating Supreme Court justices and agency heads with long histories of siding with companies over employees—all while delivering huge tax cuts to the rich and big corporations, including major automakers.

"At every turn, Donald Trump and his appointees have made increasing the power of corporations over working people their top priority," the Communications Workers of America wrote while the former president was still in office. "Trump has encouraged freeloaders, made it more difficult to enforce collective bargaining agreements, silenced workers, and restricted the freedom to join unions."

It's no surprise, then, that Trump's 2024 presidential campaign is glossing over the actual substance of his record as the billionaire former president and current Republican frontrunner attempts to insert himself into one of the most significant labor actions in decades.

The New York Timesreported Monday that the Trump team has "produced a radio ad that will begin running on Tuesday in Detroit and Toledo, Ohio, trying to cast Mr. Trump as aligned with autoworkers."

The narrator of the spot declares that Trump "has always had their backs," even though he said on at least two occasions during his 2016 campaign that U.S. workers' wages are "too high" and spent much of his administration trying to disempower employees.

Trump is expected to speak to hundreds of workers—including autoworkers and plumbers—during his Detroit visit next Wednesday. According to the Times, the former president is also considering "an appearance at the picket line."

"The last time Donald Trump 'visited' striking union workers, it was to cross our picket line against 'The Apprentice' in 2004," the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees wrote in a social media post on Tuesday.

"Now he wants to visit a UAW picket line? When billionaires show you what they think of labor, believe them," the union added.

It's far from clear that Trump would get a warm reception from the roughly 13,000 autoworkers who are currently on strike in Missouri, Ohio, and Michigan—a number that's expected to grow in the coming days if management does not meet the UAW's demands for substantial wage and benefit improvements.

A majority of the U.S. public supports the strikes, which are the first simultaneous walkouts targeting the Big Three automakers in the UAW's history.

Just two days after the union launched the strikes, NBC News aired an interview with Trump in which the former president lashed out at UAW president Shawn Fain, claiming he is "not doing a good job in representing his union because he's not going to have a union in three years from now."

"Those jobs are all going to be gone because all of those electric cars are going to be made in China," Trump said. "The autoworkers are being sold down the river by their leadership, and their leadership should endorse Trump."

Fain, the first UAW president directly elected by rank-and-file members, hit back in a statement on Monday.

"Every fiber of our union is being poured into fighting the billionaire class and an economy that enriches people like Donald Trump at the expense of workers," said Fain. "We can't keep electing billionaires and millionaires that don't have any understanding what it is like to live paycheck to paycheck and struggle to get by and expecting them to solve the problems of the working class."

"Donald Trump's anti-worker, anti-union record is one of the key reasons Michigan rejected Trump in 2020."

Reports that Trump is considering a picket-line visit have generated some consternation among Democratic lawmakers and strategists, who fear that the former president is " outmaneuvering" Biden on the autoworker strike.

The day the walkouts began, Biden—whose NLRB has fought to strengthen workers' rights—said the Big Three automakers "should go further to ensure record corporate profits mean record contracts for the UAW" and announced he would dispatch Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su and White House senior adviser Gene Sperling to Detroit to support the contract negotiations, a move that reportedly frustrated UAW leaders wary of any outside intervention in the high-stakes talks.

The Biden administration has since decided against sending Su and Sperling to Detroit.

The Washington Post's Jeff Stein reported earlier this week that Biden is facing "increasing pressure from some Democratic lawmakers to do something none of his predecessors appear to have done in office: join striking workers walking a picket line."

"Numerous Democrats in Michigan and around the country have expressed concern as Biden's likely rival in next year's election, former president Donald Trump, tries to woo union voters and weaken a crucial Democratic constituency by making his own visit to a strike site," Stein wrote. (Biden beat Trump 57%-40% among members of union households nationwide in 2020.)

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) told the Post that she believes "the UAW family would love the most powerful person in the world—the president of the United States—to come and hold a sign in solidarity with them."

"But I hope he does it in a way where he actually sits down and has a roundtable with some key people, and really listens to how hard it’s been," Tlaib added. "Of course, the president coming would be extremely important. But people want someone who's advocating for them and demanding a form of economic justice for them and their families—to come in solidarity."

Politico reported Tuesday that "Biden's team has privately weighed whether to dispatch a top lieutenant to the picket line to stand alongside the UAW workers," but a decision has yet to be made.

One Democratic strategist, granted anonymity by Politico, expressed concern that Trump "scooped" the Biden administration by announcing a Detroit trip first.

"Now if we announce we're going, it looks like we're just going because of Trump," said a national Democratic strategist. "We waited too long. That's the challenge."

The Biden campaign waved away that assessment, arguing that Trump's visit provides "an opportunity to remind voters across the Midwest that as president he cut taxes for billionaires."

"Donald Trump's anti-worker, anti-union record is one of the key reasons Michigan rejected Trump in 2020 and sent Joe Biden to the White House," Ammar Moussa, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign, told Politico. "His failed presidency is defined by auto companies shuttering their doors and shipping American jobs overseas while lining the pockets of the wealthy and big corporations."

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) expressed a similar sentiment in a social media post earlier this week, writing: "Trump is not going to fight for pay increases, pensions, healthcare, benefits, or job security for workers. He will not work to strengthen our domestic auto industry during this transition and he’s not going to fight to keep these jobs in America."

"I hope people see exactly what this is about at a time when this industry and our workers are at a crossroads," Dingell added.

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