Trump Plans to Speak at Nonunion Factory Amid U.A.W. Strike


Former President Donald J. Trump, in a pitch to blue-collar workers on Wednesday, plans to speak at a Michigan auto parts factory, one day after President Biden joined a picket line for striking United Automobile Workers outside Detroit.

But the factory, it turns out, is a nonunion shop, the company’s president said.

Mr. Trump’s appearance, scheduled to overlap with a prime-time debate by his Republican challengers, is taking place at Drake Enterprises in Clinton Township, north of Detroit. The company’s 150 employees make gear shift levers for heavy-duty trucks, as well as components that go into cars made by General Motors and Ford.

In contrast with Mr. Biden’s appearance on Tuesday on a union picket line outside a G.M. facility, Mr. Trump will speak under the auspices of a nonunion employer to a crowd that the Trump campaign said would number more than 500 plumbers, pipe-fitters, electricians and autoworkers.

It is unclear whether any striking workers will be in the crowd. The Trump campaign made no effort to recruit attendees through U.A.W. locals, according to the union. Nathan Stemple, president of Drake Enterprises, which his grandfather founded in 1952, said he was not involved in inviting attendees.

Hours after appearing with Mr. Biden on a picket line outside a G.M. facility in Belleville, Mich., Shawn Fain, the president of the U.A.W., told CNN: “I find a pathetic irony that the former president is going to hold a rally for union members at a nonunion business.”

Mr. Fain denounced Mr. Trump’s lack of support during a strike against G.M. in 2019 when he was in office and said he had no plans to meet with the former president during his visit.

Mr. Trump, who has said nothing about whether he supports the striking autoworkers’ demands, which include a 40 percent pay raise over four years, has long sought to separate rank-and-file union members from union leaders, who largely endorse Democrats. He has had notable success: He won about four in 10 votes from union households in 2020, according to exit polls.

He is all but certain to repeat his recent attacks on the Biden administration’s push for electric vehicles and to revisit a claim he made that autoworkers were “being sold down the river by their leadership.” The U.A.W., which argues that the transition to electric vehicles is inevitable and that it is driven by consumer demand, seeks to ensure that zero-emission vehicles are made by workers earning union wages.

On Tuesday, as Mr. Biden became the first president of modern times to join a picket line, Mr. Trump issued a statement predicting that “in three years there will be no autoworker jobs” if Mr. Biden’s policies prevail, but that “with me, there will be jobs and wages like you’ve never seen before.”

Marick Masters, a professor of business with a focus on labor issues at Wayne State University in Detroit, said that the economic uncertainty around the transition to electric vehicles worries many autoworkers, providing Mr. Trump with a political opening.

“There’s a big question about how successful these companies are going to be in the transition to electric vehicles,” he said. “Trump’s message resonates, and it cuts across a broad swath of workers.”

Mr. Stemple, Drake’s president, said a too-rapid switch to electric vehicles would decimate his family company. He noted that electric vehicles do not require gear shift levers, one of his main products. “A lot of shops like us wouldn’t survive that transition if it happened rapidly,” he said.

Mr. Trump’s record with autoworkers is decidedly mixed. During his term, he pressured automakers to keep their factories in the United States rather than Mexico. Auto manufacturing jobs climbed in his first year in office, before flattening and dipping — and then the pandemic sent them plunging. Under Mr. Biden, auto jobs have exceeded their highest level under Mr. Trump.

In addition to the location — a nonunion plant — the county in which Mr. Trump plans to appear carries a political symbolism: Macomb County, north of Detroit, was home to the original “Reagan Democrats,” the blue-collar voters who in the 1980s deserted the party that had traditionally advanced their standard of living, in favor of Republican messaging coded in racial division.

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