Opinion: Trump fights for rank and file union members

Melinda Rowe

The General Motors strike is the direct and disappointing result of collusion between auto executives, union leaders and Democratic politicians who have teamed up to pursue their own interests at the expense of workers.

President Donald Trump has fought for the interests of union auto workers by rolling back the federal fuel economy standards that Democrats cherish as a means of forcing car companies to bend to Washington’s will, but his efforts have received surprising pushback from the car manufacturers and union leaders who would normally be expected to oppose job-killing federal regulations. 

The Draconian Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards imposed by President Obama require vehicles to achieve an average of 46.7 miles per gallon by 2025, a target that could only be met by significantly ramping up production of hybrid and all-electric vehicles. Companies typically hate it when the federal government gets involved in their business decisions, but in this case the car makers determined that they could turn Obama’s regulations to their advantage.

President Donald Trump speaks during a Cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Monday, Oct. 21, 2019, in Washington.

GM and the other big auto companies want to make a full switch to electric vehicles, which would allow them to slash union jobs. As any autoworker can tell you, combustion engines are difficult to build, requiring more manpower and skill than electric motors. That’s why auto workers earn such good wages: It’s not easy to engineer a controlled explosion under the hood of a car. 

Battery-powered engines, conversely, are less difficult to produce and require less skilled labor to install. That means companies can make the same number of cars with fewer workers, and can pay those workers lower wages than the specialized employees needed to produce combustion engines. 

We saw a clear example of this in the UAW-GM negotiations, when GM proposed building a car battery factory near the plant that it recently closed in Lordstown, Ohio. The battery plant would likely employ several hundred workers, whereas the Lordstown factory supported more than 3,000 union jobs. The battery plant will also only pay workers between $15 and $17 per hour, about half the $30 per hour that workers earned at the Lordstown factory. 

That’s a terrible deal for UAW members, but it’s the type of deal begat by the zero-carbon future envisioned by Democratic politicians in Washington and auto executives in Detroit. It’s no coincidence that GM shuttered five plants and laid off 14,000 workers after announcing its plans to switch to electric.

There’s just one problem with the strategy: Auto companies can only earn bigger profits from electric cars if people actually buy electric vehicles, and electric vehicles don’t sell very well. If even just one auto manufacturer keeps producing gasoline-powered cars, any competitor that switches to electric risks losing billions of dollars in revenue. That’s why GM and others have embraced the Democrats’ war on combustion engines, which would force consumers to buy electric vehicles instead of allowing them to choose for themselves.

Trump knows that the fuel economy standards are the root cause of the factory closings and layoffs. That’s why his administration has repealed the Draconian standards enacted by the Obama administration, and is fighting deep-blue states that are seeking to establish their own conflicting set of standards.

The UAW, paradoxically, has sided with the car companies — perhaps because the union’s leaders calculated that it would not be in their long-term interests to defy their benefactors in the Democratic Party. Shortly before Trump took office, then-UAW President Dennis Williams urged lawmakers in Washington to “maintain our nation’s commitment to improving fuel efficiency and reducing emissions,” noting that the union worked closely with the Obama administration to develop the stringent CAFE standards.

Union leaders failed their rank-and-file members by embracing the Democrats’ radical climate agenda with no apparent regard for the workers who would have their livelihoods taken away. We already know that the UAW leadership is corrupt.

Today, the Democratic presidential candidates aren’t just proposing burdensome regulations to reduce carbon emissions; they’re campaigning on eliminating fossil fuels entirely. That would naturally have disastrous consequences for auto workers across the country, eliminating thousands of well-paying jobs and shuttering dozens of combustion-engine manufacturing and assembly plants.

When Democrats claim to support organized labor but also advance a radical environmental agenda that would destroy union jobs, they make it abundantly obvious that their support for union workers is merely rhetorical.

Trump is the only person defending the interests of union members against the combined forces of Democratic politicians, car company executives, and UAW leaders who care only about advancing their own interests over those of the hard working men and women of their industry.

Melinda Rowe is a UAW-Ford employee with 25 years of seniority.