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Dem Candidates Pander to Striking Autoworkers to Court Union Vote

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

In an apparent pandering competition to win the favor of union voters, Democratic presidential candidates used the Ohio debate stage to blast General Motors on Tuesday night, blaming the automaker for the month-long strike with the United Auto Workers union.

On the morning of the debate, reports had broken that GM and UAW leadership had reached a tentative agreement to end the month-long strike that impacted some 175,000 workers and cost GM roughly $1.2 billion. But reports of a possible end to the strike didn’t prevent Democratic candidates from forgoing their chance to bash the corporation and virtue-signal their support for the striking union members in front of the Ohio crowd.

Of course, while the candidates felt comfortable denouncing GM as a greedy and evil corporation, they conveniently glossed over the habitual corruption of UAW’s leadership which includes recent FBI investigations and raids on charges of racketeering, bribery and kickbacks. The scandal has led to a string of arrests and the indictment of ten top UAW officials, including officials still at the negotiating table with GM. For Democrats, these are small matters easily swept under the rug when the union’s endorsement is still up for grabs.

During the debate, without mentioning a word of the UAW’s crookedness, Beto O’Rourke blamed GM for the strikes and attacked the automaker for the alleged “malfeasance” of “paying effectively zero in taxes last year.” First, it should be obvious to all that O’Rourke’s claim that GM paid no taxes in 2018 is false. According to GM, the company paid more than $3.15 billion in state, local and payroll taxes in the U.S. in 2018.

Unfortunately, claiming that corporations aren’t paying taxes has become a standard talking point for Democratic candidates. In reality these companies utilize federal tax credits for research and development and take deductions for losses in previous years, all of which is allowed by U.S. tax code. GM, for example, benefits from R&D credits for electric and autonomous vehicles and is still taking tax deductions for its losses prior to 2009. O’Rourke can oppose such deductions on policy grounds, but to label GM’s legal use of the tax code as “malfeasance” while ignoring the actual criminals leading UAW makes him an outright hypocrite.

But O’Rourke wasn’t alone is in his pandering. Elizabeth Warren also joined in, vowing her campaign would strengthen the bargaining position of UAW members by requiring 40% of a corporation’s board of directors to be chosen by their employees. Warren’s plan, which in addition to having the government coerce corporate boards to abandon their accountability to shareholders, would effectively place unions are on both sides of the bargaining table during worker strikes. Having unions negotiating with themselves is an obvious recipe for disaster, although perhaps in UAW’s case it would eliminate the need for bribery as union officials would only be paying themselves.

When asked by moderators to explain his support of the striking autoworkers, Cory Booker answered by implying GM is denying its workers a “living wage” and broadly proclaiming that “unions in America are under attack.” Apparently for Booker, the average $90,000 annual salary earned by GM’s hourly employees doesn’t constitute a living wage and GM’s decision to continue healthcare coverage for its striking employees amounts to an assault. To most Americans, having your employer continue paying for your healthcare plan while refusing to show up to work seems rather generous.

The rhetoric and pandering on display at Tuesday’s debate made clear that the Democratic candidates aren’t concerned with an end to the strike or for the welfare of workers. If they were, they would have used the debate stage to praise GM and its workers for reaching an agreement that gets employees back to work under better terms. 

Instead, Democrats spent the night bashing GM and sowing discord between a company and its employees.

Mike Palicz is Federal Affairs Manager at Americans for Tax Reform

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