In the midst of the economic upheaval, these workers said they found security in their union work, which they attributed to driving up workers’ wages across the economy – even if they were still struggling to absorb inflation.
“These unions, I think, raise wages,” Hauck said. “And then the rest of the companies that aren’t unionized have to follow and fit reasonably, because if they don’t, they won’t have employees.” So definitely the unions play a very important role in the economy and workers’ wages.”
But they even felt that security was threatened by the slow turnover of workers from their local population – both workers who relocated and workers who opt out of union in the right-to-work state.
“I’d like our politicians to know. I’d like them to do some work to get rid of the right to work here in the state of Michigan,” Evans said. “I think it’s bullshit. I think it destroys what we stand for, and we don’t need that. Because we’re in a rebuilding phase, we’re trying to rebuild this to what it was, and right to work was like a slap in the jaw, you know.”
“Where else do you offer a service that you definitely don’t want? I want your service, but I don’t think I want to pay for it. So I’m going to retire from the union,’ Hauck agreed. “It’s just ridiculous. The whole concept is, and it was, set up to break the union.”
Dan Kildee cannot be said have gone to shore during his time in Washington. He’s a big guy, kind and clear, and could be just as much a clerk at a local Flint UAW as the deputy whip for the Democrats in Congress. But his attitude is as practiced as practical experience. Kildee comes from a political family and his uncle, Dale Kildee, held this seat in Congress for 11 terms.
“Oh, I’ll always vote for a Kildee,” says a white-haired woman when the embattled congressman rings the doorbell on a scavenger hunt outside Bay City. “Good family.”
But Kildee, like Slotkin, made a frustrated figure during his July campaign through his new district. The self-proclaimed practical progressive — a member of both the Progressives and Problem Solvers caucuses in Congress — was just as likely to highlight splits with his party as he was to elevate their priorities. His ads expressed his support for a gas tax break and police funding, and his first stop in Saginaw, a small former car town north of Flint, was with the city police.
At a coffee shop in downtown Bay City, a small town 50 miles north of Flint, Kildee unleashed members of his own party who he says were blocking his legislation to lower insulin prices, along with other health facilities in the Build Back Better Better package.
“It does matter what health priorities are,” Kildee said after a day of polling. “It’s not just a question of economics, that’s a moral question for me. There are people who have died. Because they had to ration their insulin, not because it was too expensive to make. They could see the insulin vial on the other side of the pharmacy counter. And it was literally within their physical reach, but outside their economic reach.”
If the Democrats fail to get some relief before the midterm elections, Kildee could still survive and dispel his name and community fame. But if he loses, he said there’s “no doubt” that his fellow Democrats who have retained the filibuster rather than pursue an aggressive policy will be blamed.
“I don’t know how anyone can consider themselves conservative or moderate when they use the government’s authority to prevent the will of the people from becoming policy,” he said. “That is a radical view. That is a dangerous view. And who is the moderate here? A person who is behind the Jim Crow era tool to prevent someone from getting life-saving insulin? I do not think so.”
David Michael, like many of the UAW union members in Michigan, has more of a head for policy than for politics. During a tour of the newly renovated electric vehicle factory in Lake Orion, he explained the intricacies of union contract details and trade agreements, such as the one with South Korea that kept this factory going in the 2010s.
But when I asked if a man in a “Let’s go Brandon” shirt on the line was a Trump supporter. He seemed confused.
“Tim is a Trump man, yes. How did you – how did you make that correlation? That’s weird because he’s hardcore Trump.”
I’ve been going through the NASCAR origin story of “Let’s go Brandon” – the more polite conservative replacement for the real message: “Fuck Joe Biden.”
Michael laughed. “Oh, so I’m slow with that joke,” he said. “Brandon is a school district here.”
The UAW and GM both consider the Lake Orion plant to be one of the burgeoning success stories in the American manufacturing renaissance — places where Michael said workers feel they earn enough to support their families, even when health care options , pension and childcare do not. t live up to their romanticized memories.
For decades, its history has conflicted with mainstream economic trends in America. The plant opened under President Ronald Reagan and was slated to close in early 2010 until a trade deal with South Korea opened up a new market for small cars, revitalizing the plant for a few years. Now converted into GM’s first all-electric vehicle assembly plant, the line has been converted to hoist huge battery packs into the Chevy Bolt EV’s chassis, rather than the old combustion engine transmissions. There are now 1,200 working.