The White House is seeking to end the United Auto Workers strike against General Motors with an agreement that would reopen an assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio that GM shut down in March.
The effort, described to POLITICO by two people close to the matter, would effectively put the White House on the side of the UAW. Some 48,000 GM workers went out on strike Monday demanding higher wages, more generous health care benefits and more job security than management has been willing to offer in a new contract.
One person close to the matter said National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow and White House trade and manufacturing adviser Peter Navarro are both involved in the talks. This individual, who was not authorized to speak publicly, cautioned that discussions are still in early stages and that the White House may not be able to broker a deal.
In remarks to reporters Monday at the White House, President Donald Trump said “Federal mediation is always possible if that’s what they want. Hopefully, they’ll be able to work out the GM strike quickly. We don’t want General Motors building plants outside of this country.”
The White House did not respond to requests for comment on the status of the negotiations, though Trump himself indicated he was sympathetic to the workers’ cause.
“My relationship has been very powerful with the [UAW] — not necessarily the top person or two, but the people that work doing automobiles,” Trump said Monday. “Nobody has ever brought more companies into the United States.“
“And big things are happening in Ohio, including with Lordstown,” he said. “Very positive things are happening.“
A UAW spokesperson declined to comment on any overtures by the White House, saying it is focused on negotiations at the bargaining table. GM also declined to comment.
The president bludgeoned General Motors last year for announcing plans last year to cut nearly 14,000 jobs in North America, including plant closures in Michigan, Ohio, and Maryland. The Lordstown plant raised particular ire from Trump and has been used by critics to argue that his promise to revive U.S. manufacturing was an empty one.
Trump has been following negotiations between GM and the UAW for some time. In March, he admonished GM and the UAW for dragging their heels in renegotiating a contract.
“Why wait, start them now!“ Trump tweeted at the time. “I want jobs to stay in the U.S.A. and want Lordstown (Ohio), in one of the best economies in our history, opened or sold to a company who will open it up fast! Car companies are all coming back to the U.S. So is everyone else.”
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation today advised nearly 50,000 striking General Motors workers on how to quit the United Auto Workers and return to their jobs.
“The fact is, employees, do not have to become or remain members of the UAW or any other union to get or keep their jobs. Despite the often-misleading language in collective bargaining contracts, no employee is actually required to be a member of a union,“ the group said in the notice. “And if an employee is not a member of a union, then union officials cannot fine or discipline him or her.“
Some (but not all) of the plants whose workers are out on strike are located in “right-to-work“ states where union nonmembers aren’t required to pay union fees to cover their portion of collective bargaining costs. In the notice, the right-to-work foundation encouraged employees who want to return to work to quit the union first to prevent being disciplined by union leaders.
The right-to-work group’s call comes amid a widening corruption scandal at the UAW that has ensnared top leaders. President Gary Jones and former President Dennis Williams were implicated in a recent court filing, the Detroit News reported last week, and eight other people have been sent to prison.
The UAW has stood by a member of its executive board, Vance Pearson, who is accused of money laundering and fraud in connection with the scheme. Pearson continued to advise the UAW bargaining team this week despite the criminal charges pending against him.
New allegations of corruption last week against the UAW’s leadership by federal investigators landed just days before the union’s contracts with the Detroit 3 were set to expire, adding chaos to an already difficult set of negotiations.
The president of the union’s Region 5, which covers Missouri and 16 other Western and Southwestern states, was arrested and charged with conspiring to embezzle UAW funds. U.S. Justice Department prosecutors said Vance Pearson and other UAW leaders misused hundreds of thousands of dollars on leisurely vacations in California, golf clubs, lavish meals, cigars and $440 bottles of champagne. UAW President Gary Jones and his predecessor, Dennis Williams, are among the officials implicated, sources told The Detroit News and Reuters, although they were not identified by name in the criminal complaint against Pearson, 58.