Trump UAW

Andrea Austria / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

In covering Trump’s upcoming UAW speech, mainstream media should focus on his long history of anti-labor actions

Mainstream media fail to contextualize Donald Trump's anti-labor history in reporting on his plans to woo striking autoworkers

Update (9/27/23): After publication, Trump announced he will be giving his speech at Drake Enterprises, a nonunion manufacturing plant that is miles away from the nearest UAW picket line.

Donald Trump has an extensive history of anti-labor and anti-union actions. Now that he plans to address members of the United Auto Workers during their strike, it is important that mainstream media contextualize the speech with his lengthy anti-worker record.

  • Trump plans on giving a speech to the United Auto Workers during their historic strike

    • Roughly 13,000 workers from Ford, Stellantis, and General Motors have walked off the plants to demand higher wages and better working conditions. The UAW union has asked for substantially higher compensation based on company profits as well as more paid time off and cost-of-living allowances. This UAW strike is the first time in U.S. history that all auto workers from the Big Three automakers have gone on strike simultaneously. [The Associated Press, 9/15/23]
    • On September 27, the same day as the second GOP presidential primary debate, Trump is scheduled to deliver a speech to UAW union workers in Detroit, Michigan. During a recently aired interview with NBC News, the former president and GOP frontrunner claimed that “the auto workers are being sold down the river by their leadership, and their leadership should endorse Trump.” [NBC News, 9/15/23, 9/18/23]
    • UAW President Shawn Fain has been critical of Trump and called his potential second presidency “a disaster.” In response, Trump said, “I think he’s not doing a good job in representing his union, because he’s not going to have a union in three years from now.” [NBC News, 9/18/23]
  • Many mainstream print and online outlets failed to contextualize Trump’s anti-labor actions in their initial coverage

    • Many print and online outlets did not highlight Trump’s opposition to labor unions during his presidency or his businesses’ labor violations in initial articles covering the speech announcement. Publications instead highlighted how Trump’s UAW speech will affect his 2024 presidential campaign and whether other presidential candidates will make public shows of support for labor unions. Politico, for example, put the spotlight on the 2024 presidential campaign and asserted that “the reactions of both political parties so far, however, suggest neither adequately grasps the scope or goals of the strike.” [Axios, 9/18/23; USA Today, 9/18/23; The New York Times, 9/18/23; Politico, 9/18/23]
    • In their initial reporting, only a few major outlets, like The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, provided some factual context of Trump’s extensive anti-labor record. Though the Journal previously missed the mark on labor issues, editorializing with false claims and failing to prioritize workers’ quotes in strike coverage, it was one of the few outlets to mention that “as president, Trump pushed through tax breaks for corporations and made appointments to the National Labor Relations Board that unions say tipped rulings in favor of employers.” [The Washington Post, 9/18/23; The Wall Street Journal, 9/20/23]
  • Here are just a few of Trump’s anti-worker efforts that news outlets can and should note in covering his speech

    • Trump suggested that then-President Barack Obama should have let automakers go bankrupt. He said in a campaign speech in 2015, “You could have let it go bankrupt, frankly, and rebuilt itself, and a lot of people felt it should happen.” [NBC News, 8/8/16]
    • Trump's first pick to run the Labor Department was an anti-worker fast food CEO. During the transition period after the 2016 election, Trump's first pick to serve as secretary of labor was fast food CEO and frequent right-wing columnist Andy Puzder, who opposed efforts to expand overtime protections or increase the minimum wage and regularly promoted the “Welfare Cliff” fallacy. (Puzder later withdrew from consideration amid accusations of spousal abuse by his ex-wife.) [Media Matters, 11/17/16; Politico, 2/15/17]
    • As president, Trump promised to veto the Protecting the Right to Organize Act if it reached his desk. The Act intended to “help ensure that workers’ have a meaningful right to organize and bargain collectively by streamlining the process when workers form a union, bolstering their chances of success at negotiating a first agreement, and holding employers accountable when they violate workers’ rights.” [Economic Policy Institute, 10/16/19; Office of Management and Budget, 2/5/20]
    • Trump stacked the National Labor Relations Board with anti-union appointees with histories of defending corporate interests. Trump’s NLRB “reversed several key Obama-era rulings that made it easier for small unions to organize, strengthened the bargaining rights of franchise workers and provided protection against anti-union measures for employees.” [Economic Policy Institute, 10/16/19; Jacobin, 9/22/20; The Associated Press, 9/21/23]
    • Trump’s Department of Labor was headed up by Eugene Scalia, who spent several decades as an attorney “helping corporations gut or evade government regulations, including worker protections.” Scalia previously defended SeaWorld against workplace safety charges, helped Walmart overturn a Maryland law protecting workers’ health care, and vocally opposed ergonomic safety requirements as “junk science.” [The New Yorker, 10/19/23]
    • Despite campaign promises, Trump failed to decrease offshoring. Data kept by the U.S. Department of Labor on applications for Trade Adjustment Assistance suggest that “12,552 more jobs left the U.S. in the first three-and-a-half years of the Trump presidency than did in the equivalent period of the presidential term immediately before.” [Bloomberg, 10/20/20; Reuters, 1/19/21]
    • Trump blamed a union president after his own intervention still resulted in a manufacturer sending half of its jobs to Mexico. During the transition period before taking office, Trump cultivated unearned praise from right-wing and mainstream news outlets for his supposed role in salvaging union jobs at Indiana-based manufacturer Carrier. In reality, despite Trump’s intervention, the factory still ended up relocating nearly half of its manufacturing jobs to Mexico, resulting in a public feud between Trump and United Steel Workers 1999 President Chuck Jones, who said Trump “lied his a-- off” during negotiations with management. [Media Matters, 12/1/16; Politico, 12/8/16; Media Matters, 3/9/17]
    • Trump threatened workers’ retirement savings by killing the fiduciary rule, which required financial professionals to act in their clients’ best interests. The Economic Policy Institute reported that “unscrupulous players in the financial industry are working to kill the rule so they can continue fleecing retirement savers—and the Trump administration is doing everything it can to help them out.” [Economic Policy Institute, 2/2/18; Center for American Progress Action Fund, 8/28/19]
    • Prior to his presidency, Trump “always financed his lavish lifestyle at the expense of the workers and contractors he screwed over.” Hundreds of workers and contractors have alleged that Trump never fully paid them for their work. [USA Today, 6/9/16; The Nation, 1/11/19]