UAW considering ‘Buy American’ ad campaign

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams said Thursday the union is looking to seize a growing “Buy American” mentality and is considering launching an advertising campaign aimed at supporting American-made products and manufacturing.

The ad campaign would come as President Donald Trump aims to shake up trade policies and possibly slap a tariff on vehicles built in Mexico and exported to the U.S.

Williams, who met with reporters in Detroit, said the American public could help push the case for more investment and manufacturing in the United States. “We’re seeing a trend in this country that boycott may be coming back,” which could change the way businesses operate, he said.

The union has had no communication with Trump or his administration, he said. But Williams hopes he will be able to sit down with the president and share the union’s position on trade and immigration.

Williams said he has shared with two automakers some of his concerns about trade policy under Trump. He would not name those automakers, and said he does not know if his concerns were passed on.

Williams told reporters in November that the union wanted to work with Trump to renegotiate or end the North American Free Trade Agreement. He said Thursday he was happy with Trump’s decision “to scrap” the proposed trade pact known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Trump signed a memorandum to leave the TPP soon after taking office. During his campaign and after, he has blamed NAFTA and China for killing U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Trump has met with the chief executives of the Detroit Three. He also has met with leaders from manufacturing companies as well as some unions. GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra sits on a Trump economic policy advisory group.

Williams suggested that Americans need to be better educated on what they buy and where a vehicle is made. A union representing garment workers in the late 1970s ran ads urging buyers to look for a union-made label on clothing.

“First and foremost, I want them to buy union vehicles,” Williams said in response to a question about whether a consumer should buy a Mexican-made Ford Fusion or an American-made Toyota Camry. “Secondary, I’d rather have them buy made in U.S.A.”

The UAW was critical of General Motors Co. and its Buick brand for its recent Super Bowl ad featuring two vehicles made in Europe and China — the Cascada convertible and Envision SUV — that are sold in the United States.

Trump has targeted U.S. automakers for building vehicles in Mexico and shipping them back into the U.S., calling out GM for building its Chevrolet Cruze hatchback in Mexico, for instance.

Williams said he’s torn when it comes to the Trump administration. NAFTA renegotiation could help the UAW, but there are other Trump policies the union and Williams can’t stand behind.

“We are not going to shy away or walk away from core principles we have that we are in conflict with,” Williams said. “It doesn’t mean we can’t work with the administration on things I think (are) very important to the American public and American workers.”

The president needs to rethink his stance on immigration, Williams said.

“It’s very dangerous to single out individual groups based on religion,” he said. “It’s un-American.”

The UAW said 59 percent of its members voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in the November presidential election; 33 percent went for Trump. Williams said 8 percent of its polled membership did not vote for either.

Separately, Williams confirmed that the union is talking with some Tesla Inc. employees from its Fremont, California, plant about representation. He said the union has hired organizers there.

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Staff Writer Ian Thibodeau contributed.