The visits by President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump to Detroit this week give both men a chance to appeal to blue-collar America as the strike by union autoworkers threatens the economy in a battleground state.
Biden, who calls himself the most pro-union president in history, travels to Wayne County on Tuesday to join striking UAW members on the picket line. Trump, the front-runner among Republicans in the 2024 presidential race, hosts an event in suburban Detroit on Wednesday with autoworkers and other union members.
The candidates are trying to show their support for laborers after the United Auto Workers expanded a strike Friday against Detroit’s Big Three automakers to 38 additional facilities, adding to the three plants it initially targeted on Sept. 15. In the strike’s second week, after economic losses estimated at $1.6 billion, the two sides still remain far apart on key issues such as pay, benefits and terms.
Trump’s advisers said he will argue that Biden’s support for electric-vehicle production will send jobs to China and that his trade policies, along with a jump in inflation, have devastated workers, while Biden will likely point to his pro-union stances and defend his green-energy agenda.
Workers on the picket lines Sunday at Ford Motor Co.’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne and Stellantis NV’s Mopar Parts Distribution Center in Center Line, and union members at other sites last week, said they welcomed the candidates if they spur a favorable settlement.
Jacob Bishop, a 23-year-old employee for Stellantis, said at a “practice picket” for workers who haven’t yet walked out that he didn’t like how Biden imposed a deal last year between freight railroads and labor to avert a strike. He wants promises automakers won’t move EV jobs to places that are less supportive of unions and safety protections.
“It’s a matter of when at this point, and we all know that,” Bishop said of the transition to EVs. “We want to make sure that in that transition, the companies don’t try and use that as a little bit of a scapegoat to try and transition their relatively good-paying union jobs.”
Trump’s visit is intended to distract from this year’s second GOP presidential debate, which he’s skipping. His rivals for the nomination will be on the stage in California the same time he’s speaking in Michigan.
Michigan voters — and the union workers among them — are expected to be critical in the 2024 race for president based on prior elections: Biden won 62% of Michigan’s union household vote in 2020, topping Trump’s 37%, and won the state by more than 154,000 votes. But in 2016, Trump won the state by just 10,704 votes, with exit polls showing he got 40% of the union vote, compared with 53% for Hillary Clinton.
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