U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Michigan Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich and Percy Johnson, a local auto worker, held a virtual press conference to highlight President Donald Trump’s trade actions and record on auto jobs as well as the Biden-Harris campaign’s plans for Michigan on Wednesday afternoon. 

Trump promised to bring back manufacturing jobs during his 2016 presidential campaign, blaming the decline of the automotive sector on trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. His administration renegotiated the deal, coming up with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, which went into effect in July.

Stabenow opened the press conference by criticizing the Trump administration’s response to problems with manufacturing as jobs in the sector continue to disappear. She cited stark differences between former Vice President Joe Biden and Trump. 

“I had to explain every single day to this administration why manufacturing is important,” Stabenow said. “They talk a good game all the time and then they do the opposite, and actions speak louder than words.”

Stabenow also criticized the lack of attention to the needs of workers and safety standards in the auto industry, emphasizing their importance in the workplace.

“When we look at the lack of willingness to support workers (with) the protective equipment that they need — the safety standards that they need to feel confident in the workplace — what we have seen for our auto workers, and frankly all of our workers, is an underlying of our labor laws,” Stabenow said.

Stabenow described Trump’s policies as chaotic and cited Biden as the solution to these challenges. Biden’s campaign touts his credentials on the subject after the Obama administration bailed out the auto industry during the Great Recession. 

“Joe Biden is looking to the future, he is talking about a bold plan that invests in education and technology development for the future,” Stabenow said. “We’re making these new vehicles in Michigan, we’re going to be the ones at the front of the line of new technologies and electric vehicles and it involves education and training and development and research … all things that are, frankly, in Joe Biden’s plan.” 

Johnson said he’s concerned about  Trump’s ability to follow through on his promises of improving the auto industry.

“Being an auto worker in this pandemic, along with the president and his erratic trade, I listen to him talk about saying what he is going to do and then I look at the actions of what he actually does, and he doesn’t ever do what he said he’s going to,” Johnson said.

Johnson said the Trump administration’s ideas about trade are not producing the results people need and discussed his personal plans to encourage employees to vote for change in the November general election. 

“We have a lot of people waking up every day with fear,” Johnson said. “(Trump is) allowed to talk and say what he is going to do with trade, but then we don’t see any results. So, I’m really one that will be working as hard as I can to encourage my workers to get out and vote and look at who they are supporting.” 

Trump’s campaign, meanwhile, argues the administration’s trade policies have helped farmers around the country. At a campaign event in Iowa Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence discussed the administration’s policies, touting efforts to cut regulations and the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a reworked version of NAFTA.

“USMCA is a win for Iowa,” Pence said. “It’s a win for the Heartland and it’s a win for America’s farmers.”

Ananich spoke about Trump’s policies more broadly, including the handling of the economy and of the pandemic from a health care perspective. 

“We’re basically here today to hold President Trump accountable for being reckless with the American economy, American jobs and also unfortunately American lives,” Ananich said. “I’m so shocked and frustrated, just last week (Trump) announced a tariff on aluminum from Canada just a month after their negotiated trade deal went into effect … the kind of moves he makes and his failed ability to move forward and look ahead, the domino effect this will cause.”

Anaich emphasized the gravity of the situation and how the trade decisions by the administration would directly affect how much American consumers and manufacturers pay for goods.

“Driving up the global price for aluminum for U.S. manufacturers and, ultimately, the consumers, in the middle of an unrestrained pandemic that is crippling our economy, I cannot think of a worse time to be driving up costs for Americans,” Ananich said. 

Johnson said he looks forward to the opportunity to vote for leadership he believes will better provide for him and his fellow employees. 

“I’m so glad we have a chance to replace this president and put in place leaders who can secure our safety while we’re on the job and make sure we have the equipment that we need while this pandemic is going around,” Johnson said. 

Reporter Sarah Payne can be reached at paynesm@umich.edu.   

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