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Presidential candidates are vying for an endorsement from the United Auto Workers

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

President Biden declares that he's staunchly pro-union, but the United Auto Workers, one of this country's most powerful unions, has so far declined to give Joe Biden its presidential endorsement. Former President Donald Trump thinks he might have a chance to win it. As NPR's Don Gonyea reports, the UAW's tough-love approach to politics comes amid a new round of contract negotiations with auto companies.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: UAW President Shawn Fain, who took office earlier this year, signaled from the beginning and also now at the contract talks that he's willing to strike a militant tone on behalf of his members.

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SHAWN FAIN: Whether we strike or not, it's up to the corporations. You know, if they give our members their equal share and their fair share, we're going to be fine. But if they don't, we're going to have to do what we have to do.

GONYEA: And that tone also extends to politics. Even though the nation's single largest labor organization, the AFL-CIO, has already endorsed President Biden for reelection, the UAW says it is holding off on any endorsement - for now, at least. That's because the union is unhappy with how the administration is pushing with tax dollars for the manufacture and development of electric vehicles. Fain wants guarantees that new jobs created be good paying union jobs. He insists he's not against a greener economy. Here he is outside a factory gate in suburban Detroit.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

FAIN: If we're going to do things for these companies to help this transition, labor can't be left out of the equation. And if they're going to leave labor out of the equation, then it's going to be hard for us to endorse any candidate.

GONYEA: Traditionally, UAW presidential endorsements go to Democrats, but the decision not to endorse just yet has prompted former President Donald Trump to make a pitch for himself. He did so in a three-minute-long video released this week.

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DONALD TRUMP: And I hope United Auto Workers is listening to this because I think you better endorse Trump. Because I'm going to grow your business, and they are destroying your business. They are absolutely destroying your business.

GONYEA: Trump will certainly get some auto worker votes, but an actual endorsement seems almost impossible, especially since the UAW president has said repeatedly that another Trump presidency would be, quote, "a disaster." UAW members are watching all of this closely. At the bargaining table, they want better pay and cost of living adjustments, and they want politicians they support to have their backs. David Sandoval says Biden is not perfect, but he's still got his vote.

DAVID SANDOVAL: It's not going to be 10 out of 10. It's going to be eight out of 10. And to me, that's still good. That makes him electable and makes me say I'm still going to vote for him in '24.

GONYEA: Meanwhile, at another factory where they build the Ford Bronco, UAW member Adam Kuk says he's ready to strike for more pay if need be. He won't talk about who he's voting for, but likes that his union is leaning on Biden.

ADAM KUK: I think it's pressure that was needed. Like, you're not just going to get our endorsement just because of your party lines. You're going to get our endorsement based on what you do in that office, point blank. The whole UAW is changing.

GONYEA: The UAW's top leadership was just in Washington. While there, UAW President Fain had a brief unscheduled meeting with President Biden. We still don't know exactly what they talked about, but Biden calls himself the most pro-union president in history. The UAW is telling him how to prove it.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Detroit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.
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