WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The 400,000-member United Auto Workers union endorsed Joe Biden’s U.S. presidential bid on Tuesday, giving the Democrat a potential boost in his efforts to win over working-class voters in states that will decide the Nov. 3 election.
President Donald Trump, a Republican, has heavily courted auto workers in battleground states like Michigan and Ohio, while Biden has touted his support for auto workers when he served as vice president and his support of policies championed by unions.
The endorsement comes at an opportune time for Biden, who has struggled to maintain a high profile during the COVID-19 pandemic and sustain the momentum he had built up in his lightning-quick run toward becoming the Democratic nominee.
“In these dangerous and difficult times, the country needs a president who will demonstrate clear, stable leadership, less partisan acrimony and more balance to the rights and protections of working Americans,” UAW President Rory Gamble said in a statement.
On Monday, the UAW endorsed Biden’s plan to reopen the U.S. economy closed to try to curb the spread of the coronavirus outbreak.
The union, which represents about 400,000 U.S. workers, has been in talks with General Motors Co, Ford Motor Co and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV about when to reopen U.S. auto plants.
“This issue demonstrates the need for presidential leadership to follow the guidance of science and give workers a seat in discussions over their safety and well-being. Now it is time for workers to take their place at the table,” Gamble said.
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh noted that Biden voted for the North American Free Trade Agreement opposed by many union members. Murtaugh argued that Trump “is the only one who can restore” the U.S. economy to its pre-coronavirus position.
Trump last week named top executives at the Detroit Three automakers and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka to advise the administration on reopening the economy, but did not include the UAW.
Trump defeated Democrat Hillary Clinton in Michigan in 2016 by just over 10,000 votes, or 0.23%. Democrats in the state hope Biden will attract more blue-collar support in 2020.
The UAW endorsed Clinton in 2016 but has said it believes a higher-than-normal 32% of members voted for the Republican candidate.
Asked this month about his path to victory, Biden pointed to “high school educated, working class people, some of whom moved to Trump last time” as a group he needs to court.
On Saturday, a Biden campaign official unveiled a new paid media strategy and noted several states where the campaign is advertising. Michigan was first on the list.
The U.S. Justice Department is conducting a wide-ranging corruption investigation of the UAW. Last month, the department charged the union’s former president, Gary Jones, who stepped down in November, and it previously charged 13 others.
U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider in Detroit said in March a federal takeover of the UAW is among the available options.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; additional reporting by James Oliphant and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Sonya Hepinstall and Dan Grebler)