WASHINGTON -- The UAW, amid the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic and an ongoing federal corruption investigation, said it is endorsing Joe Biden for president in the 2020 election.
U.S. President Donald Trump has heavily courted auto workers in key states such as Michigan and Ohio, while Biden has touted his support for autoworkers when he served as vice president and his support of policies championed by unions.
"In these dangerous and difficult times, the country needs a president who will demonstrate clear, stable leadership, less partisan acrimony and more balance to the rights and protections of working Americans,” UAW President Rory Gamble said in a statement on Tuesday,
The union said that in recent days it has been negotiating for enhanced safety standards over COVID-19 return-to-work policies. On Monday, the UAW endorsed Biden's plan to reopen the U.S. economy closed to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
“This issue demonstrates the need for presidential leadership to follow the guidance of science and give workers a seat in discussions over their safety and well-being," the statement said. "Now it is time for workers to take their place at the table.”
Under the Trump administration, the union has been the focus of a multiyear federal corruption investigation that has so far resulted in charges against 14 people and guilty pleas from 13 of them. Former UAW President Gary Jones is expected to plead guilty to charges of embezzlement.
U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider in Detroit said in March a federal takeover of the UAW is among the available options.
Trump last week named top executives at the Detroit 3 automakers and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to advise the administration on reopening the economy, but did not include the UAW.
Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in Michigan in 2016 by just over 10,000 votes, or 0.23 percentage points. Democrats in the state hope Biden will attract more blue-collar support in 2020.
The endorsement comes at an opportune time for Biden, who has struggled to maintain a high profile during the COVID-19 pandemic and sustain the momentum he had built up in his lightning-quick run toward becoming the Democratic nominee.
But the UAW also endorsed Clinton in 2016, proving that getting the nod from the union leadership doesn't automatically translate into support from the rank-and-file.
Many union members, in the UAW and elsewhere, broke with their leaders and voted for Trump four years ago, drawn to his protectionist message on trade.
Asked this month what his path to victory is, Biden pointed to "high school educated, working class people, some of whom moved to Trump last time" as a key group he needs to court.
On Saturday, a Biden campaign official unveiled a new paid media strategy and noted several key states where the campaign is advertising. Michigan was first on the list.
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh noted that Biden voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement opposed by many union members. Murtaugh argued that Trump "is the only one who can restore" the U.S. economy to its pre-coronavirus position.
Automotive News and Bloomberg contributed to this report.