Auto union courts Tesla workers, amplifies ‘buy American’ message

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By Joseph White | DETROIT

DETROIT United Auto Workers President Dennis
Williams said on Thursday the union is contacting workers at
Silicon Valley electric car maker Tesla Inc, and plans
to boost efforts to convince U.S. consumers not to buy vehicles
built in other countries, including those sold by the Detroit
automakers.

The UAW leader also used a meeting with reporters to praise
President Donald Trump for calling on companies to produce more
products in the United States, and promising to rework the North
American Free Trade Agreement. But Williams said he disagreed
with Trump’s order temporarily barring travel to the United
States from seven Muslim-majority countries.

“It’s very dangerous to single out individual groups based
on religion,” Williams said. “It’s un-American.” Some UAW
members were stranded overseas by the ban before it was stayed
by a federal appeals court, Williams said.

Williams’ comments highlight the political challenges facing
U.S. labor leaders as they confront a Republican president who
shares their skeptical views on free trade and values U.S.
manufacturing, but whose policies on other issues are contrary
to union principles.

“I’m interested in some of the things he’s doing,” Williams
said. “I’m very concerned about some of the things he’s doing.”

Williams said he has not met with Trump, though other union
leaders have.

The UAW leader endorsed Trump’s moves to pressure Detroit
automakers to stop shipping vehicles into the United States from
Mexico, and said the UAW is working on a new advertising
campaign to encourage consumers not to buy foreign-made
vehicles.

“If it’s not made in America, don’t buy it,” Williams told
reporters at a briefing at the union’s Detroit headquarters,
responding to a question about General Motors Co’s
Chevrolet Cruze hatchback, made in Mexico, and the Buick
Envision sport utility, which GM imports from China.

“Boycotts may be coming back,” he said, adding he would
prefer consumers buy a vehicle made by UAW workers, or a vehicle
made in the United States by a foreign manufacturer.

Regarding Tesla, Williams reiterated the union’s denial last
week that the union had paid a worker at the automaker’s
Fremont, California, factory who went public with complaints
about safety, pay and overtime.

UAW organizers are in contact with workers at Tesla,
Williams said, but any formal effort by the union to organize
workers will “be determined by the interest of employees.”

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, in comments to the Gizmodo
website, charged the UAW had paid the worker, and blamed the
union for the failure of the GM-Toyota Motor Corp joint
venture that once operated at the factory, located on the east
side of San Francisco Bay.

Tesla shares slid both before and after Williams’ comments
on Thursday, and were down 3.9 percent at $268.90 in afternoon
trading.



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