US automobile union backs Trump's bid to overturn NAFTA
11 November 2016
The head of the powerful United Auto Workers union said Thursday he wants to meet with President-elect Donald Trump to map a plan to overturn or renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, blamed for allowing high-wage US manufacturing jobs to go to low-wage Mexico.
The buds of a new political alliance were increasingly evident as the president of the UAW - which has historically backed Democratic candidates - vowed to work with the Republican to battle free-trade policies.
UAW President Dennis Williams said free-trade policies have "in many cases destroyed lives and destroyed the middle class", and he's fully aligned with Trump on the matter. He also endorsed Trump's proposed 35 per cent tariff on cars imported from Mexico despite concerns about legality.
"We're going to do what we have to do as an organization," Williams told reporters. "We're going to protect our traditional values."
Although the UAW endorsed Democratic contender Hillary Clinton and heartily backed President Obama in 2008 and 2012, an internal poll before the 2016 election showed that 28 per cent of union's members backed Trump. Williams said 61 per cent supported Clinton, while 6 per cent were undecided.
But the real percentage of UAW Trump supporters may have been higher, he said, particularly given how many pollsters underestimated the number of the Republican's backers.
The UAW is one of the largest unions centred in the Midwest. It had 408,639 members in 2015, up 1.3 per cent from 2014.
Trump appealed strongly to the UAW's core membership - working-class, assembly-line auto workers without college degrees - by blasting NAFTA's role in moving manufacturing jobs to Mexico and elsewhere.
"I'm prepared to sit down and talk to him about trade. NAFTA is a problem," Williams said. "I think his position on trade is right on."
His opposition to free-trade policies place him on the opposite side from the Detroit Big 2 automakers that employ most UAW workers: General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Trump repeatedly attacked Ford during the campaign for moving all of its small car production to Mexico, although many automakers have built plants in Mexico.
Ford executive chairman Bill Ford Jr told USA Today in October that he would have to wait to see details of any proposals to adjust NAFTA before considering the matter.
Williams also told reporters that he is pleased to hear reports that President Obama's effort to achieve a free-trade agreement with southeast Asia countries, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is dead.
At the same time, Williams vowed to stick by the union's typically progressive views on social issues. The union is "not going to change our social consciousness", he said. "That's who we are."