UAW wants to meet with Trump on NAFTA, trade deals

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

UAW President Dennis Williams said Thursday the union wants to work with President-elect Donald Trump to renegotiate or kill the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The union head, speaking to reporters Thursday in Detroit, said surveys it conducted just before the election showed an estimated 28 percent or more of its 415,000 or so union members likely voted for Trump. Earlier surveys indicated about 25 percent planned to vote for Trump. The union plans to poll its membership again now that the election is over.

Williams said the union agrees with Trump that NAFTA needs to be renegotiated or overturned and that the Trans-Pacific Partnership also should be halted. He said he is willing to talk with Trump on his ideas for a 35 percent tariff on cars built in Mexico that are imported back to the United States and a tariff with China.

“We’re prepared to work with him on a jobs bill, an infrastructure bill,” Williams said. “We think that’s pertinent to the economy and to the future of the United States.”

Williams said he believes Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was blamed for NAFTA and voters may have been swayed by Trump, whose message resonated with frustrated working families.

“I think Donald Trump had a good message to people about how NAFTA has disrupted their lives and how in many cases destroyed lives and destroyed the middle class, corporations took advantage of taking their jobs way from them,” Williams said.

Trump railed against NAFTA during his campaign and said it was responsible for many manufacturing job losses and jobs moving south of the border to Mexico.

“I think his position on trade is right on,” Williams said.

Williams called NAFTA a “huge problem” for Americans.

“I’m prepared to sit down with President-elect Trump anytime he wants,” Williams said, adding he had not yet spoken to anyone on Trump’s transition team.

The UAW also represents workers at companies that do a lot of exporting, such as Catepillar, and would want to weigh any option of a tariff, Williams said.

The union endorsed Clinton in May, though many of its members had initially supported Bernie Sanders.

“We’re going to try to find some common ground with the newly elected president,” Williams said.

Williams also said he is concerned about the shift in consumer preference of trucks and SUVs from small cars. On Wednesday, GM announced it would permanently lay off more than 2,000 hourly workers, axing a third shift at two small-car plants in Michigan and Ohio.

He said the union was working with GM to place those laid off in other plants and that there may be enough spots for them, though he was not yet sure.

GM recently announced it plans to add a third shift at its Spring Hill Assembly Plant in Tennessee, where it also is expanding an engine plant.

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