FLINT, Mich. - Inside General Motors Co.'s Flint Assembly plant, autoworkers are staking out both sides of the aisle - a reflection of the political division cleaving the Michigan electorate less than 20 days before the election.
Richard Incrocci says he loves his union as he stands in the parking lot of the United Auto Workers Local 598 hall that proudly displays Biden/Harris signs out front. So does his co-worker Lori Welch.
But they are divided over who should sit in the Oval Office the next four years, who could lead the country in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, who's best equipped to steer the battered U.S. economy and to fight for manufacturing jobs.
Incrocci loves America, and he doesn't want his country to be led by former Vice President Joe Biden. He will be supporting President Donald Trump on Nov. 3 because "a vote for Trump is a vote for America," he says before heading off to his shift as a team leader in the sprawling Flint plant that pumps out profit-rich heavy-duty trucks.
Welch is on the other side. She calls herself a centrist who identifies as a Democrat and is voting for Biden on Nov. 3: "Knowing that Joe Biden had a big hand in bringing America back from the brink makes me trust him."
Biden might be backed by the United Auto Workers union, and had a hand in saving the auto industry a decade ago as Barack Obama's vice president, but some blue-collar autoworkers are tuning out a progressive push by Democrats, and turning instead to Trump's America-first stance and promises to bring back manufacturing.
The state of Michigan, however, really hasn't seen the manufacturing boom promised during the last four years of Trump's tenure. Manufacturing employment in the state stood at 617,100 when Trump took office in January 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' seasonally adjusted data on manufacturing. It peaked at 634,200 in December 2018. By January 2020, manufacturing jobs declined to 628,700, then to 623,700 in February 2020.
Don Grimes, a senior research specialist at the University of Michigan, noted that manufacturing output expanded between January 2017 and February 2020 despite employment levels only slightly increasing by 6,600.
The sector staged a comeback from the pandemic, going from 442,900 jobs in April 2020 to 562,000 in August, Grimes said: "It's been a really strong recovery as the factories reopened."
Non-seasonally adjusted employment levels in the state's transportation equipment manufacturing sector also have been mostly stagnant. Michigan had 190,000 of these jobs in January 2017, and that dropped slightly down to 188,300 jobs by January 2020 after a peak of 196,000 in December 2018, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In August, there were 164,100 of these jobs.