POLITICS
03/21/2019 13:34 EDT | Updated 03/21/2019 14:59 EDT

Trump Has A Weird Scapegoat When Manufacturing Jobs Vanish: Union Dues

Trump said United Auto Workers union dues are too high now that a major GM plant is closing on his watch.

President Donald Trump has spent much of this week talking about the idling of General Motors’ Lordstown, Ohio, production plant, some four months after it made national news. Having promised no such plant would close on his watch, Trump turned to an unusual villain in a speech Wednesday: union dues.

Speaking to a crowd at a different manufacturing facility in Lima, Trump laid blame for the shuttering of Lordstown at the feet of the United Auto Workers union. The UAW has represented workers there for decades, and Trump has publicly attacked Dave Green, the president of the union’s Lordstown local.

“You’re paying too much dues,” Trump said to workers. “As an example, they [the UAW] could’ve kept General Motors. They could’ve kept it in that gorgeous plant at Lordstown. They could’ve kept it. Lower your dues. Lower your dues.” 

It isn’t clear whether Trump was explicitly blaming union dues for the closure or clumsily arguing that dues should be lower because the plant closed and that it was somehow the UAW’s fault.

Cleveland.com called Trump’s statement “curious,” given that union dues are paid by workers, not companies, and wouldn’t have figured in GM’s decision to idle the plant. The company is making a strategic shift away from smaller vehicles ― the plant manufactured its Chevy Cruze there ― and doubling down on trucks and SUVs in an era of cheap gas.

The UAW’s dues are about 1.5 percent of a worker’s earnings — a fairly typical rate. Dues are usually drawn directly from a worker’s paycheck and go toward the costs of bargaining for a contract, representing employees and (if the worker allows it) the union’s political activities. After raising dues several years ago, the UAW laid out a plan last year to reduce them.

SAUL LOEB via Getty Images
Addressing workers at a manufacturing facility in Lima, Ohio, on March 20, President Donald Trump laid blame for the shuttering of a GM plant in the state at the feet of the United Auto Workers union.

There are more sensible ― though perhaps equally incorrect ― ways to try to blame a union for the shuttering of a facility. A more typical Republican might argue that the good wages and benefits negotiated by the union made labor costs too high. Instead, Trump took aim at union dues, even though most of the anger in Ohio seems to be directed at GM, not the UAW.

The Ohio speech wasn’t the first time Trump griped about union dues amid politically awkward manufacturing layoffs.

When Carrier Corp., an air conditioning and refrigeration manufacturer, announced plans to shift work from Indiana to Mexico in 2016, then-President-elect Trump wound up in a public spat with a local union of the United Steelworkers, which represented the Carrier employees. Then, too, he took up the issue of union dues, saying they were too burdensome: 

Despite what he said in Ohio this week, it appears that he understands who foots the bill for union dues. When he was on the campaign trail, he said he loves states with “right to work” laws, where no worker can be required to pay fees to a union that represents them.

“It is better for the people,” Trump said at the time. “You are not paying the big fees to the unions. The unions get big fees. A lot of people don’t realize they have to pay a lot of fees. I am talking about the workers. They have to pay big fees to the union.”