Former UAW chief supports retooling of NAFTA

Bob King: “I think there's an important lesson for Democrats: working people want to see results."

DETROIT -- Former UAW President Bob King, in a rare interview since stepping down from the union's helm in 2014, said he supports President Donald Trump's bid to retool the North American Free Trade Agreement as long as it puts workers first.

“Workers have to be protected, our economy has to be protected, and the environment has to be protected,” King said Monday, without providing specifics on how. “NAFTA didn’t do that. If he renegotiates NAFTA to do all that, great. I’m skeptical, because everything I’ve seen him do so far is to take care of the wealthy, not to take care of the workers or the environment.”

King was attending a rally by U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., in Ann Arbor, Mich., to support an EPA test lab that is at risk of closing under Trump’s proposed budget cuts.

King, who led the union from 2010-2014, blames the tri-country trade pact for a loss of American jobs as automakers have increasingly looked to invest in low-cost countries such as Mexico.

UAW President Dennis Williams, King’s successor, has also derided the trade deal and advocated for changes.

King said there was a lot of pent up anger and frustration among rank-and-file auto workers, in part because of bad trade deals such as NAFTA that ultimately put Michigan in the Republican column and Trump’s favor. The 2016 presidential election marked the first time a Republican has won the Great Lakes State since 1988

“He got less votes than Romney, less votes than McCain and he’s still president," King said. “I think there’s an important lesson for Democrats: working people want to see results. They’ve seen their lives get worse and worse, not better and better.

"Democrats have to fight for policies, which I think they’re going to now, that really benefit working people.”

Unjust credit

King also said Trump is unjustly taking credit for auto jobs that were created as a result of union collective bargaining.

Trump, on multiple occasions, has cited companies such as Ford, General Motors or Fiat Chrysler that have added U.S. jobs as signs that his policy of “America First” is influencing business decisions. In nearly all cases, the jobs announcements are affirmations of commitments the companies made as part of their 2015 contract with the UAW.

“Him taking credit for jobs isn’t real,” King told Automotive News. “The reality is that they were bargained. Dennis Williams did an amazing job last time getting additional commitments for jobs in this country and billions of dollars invested in cities in America.”

You can reach Michael Martinez at mdmartinez@crain.com -- Follow Michael on Twitter: @MikeMartinez_AN

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