The Politics of Betrayal Are at Work in Michigan

Betrayal is a powerful emotion, especially at the ballot box. Voters who feel betrayed tend to act like spurned lovers, punishing the offending party even if it means electing somebody who will actually be worse.

That’s how America got Donald Trump as president. Many blue-collar workers in factory towns in battleground states like Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania — who were once pillars of the Democratic Party — voted for a man who promised to rip up free trade agreements, which they blamed for the loss of manufacturing jobs. It didn’t seem to matter to them that Mr. Trump had no track record of standing up for workers or that employees at his hotels faced union-busting tactics when they tried to organize.

More important was using their votes to punish Democrats for abandoning the working class.

Joe Biden understood that, and in 2020 he set out to atone for the sins of the Democratic Party by promising to be the most pro-union president ever — a promise he has kept. It’s not just that he became the first sitting president to join a picket line. It’s not just that he appointed the most pro-union National Labor Relations Board since the 1930s, as the labor historian Jeff Schuhrke told me. It’s all the things his appointees are doing behind the scenes.

A United Automobile Workers union rally in Detroit last year.Credit…Cydni Elledge for The New York Times

Mr. Biden’s National Labor Relations Board, for example, handed down the Cemex decision, which makes it easier for workers to win collective bargaining rights against employers. Thanks to that ruling, companies must act in a timely manner to either recognize a union or allow workers to vote on whether to form one. Companies that delay — a common tactic used to crush organizing — will be ordered to recognize the union and start bargaining with it as if it had won a vote. That requirement will be invaluable to the United Auto Workers as it pursues an audacious plan to unionize 150,000 autoworkers at Hyundai, Mercedes-Benz and other factories around the country.

The Biden administration even fights for the rights of workers abroad when they are violated by American companies. Just this month, the Labor Department successfully pushed Goodyear Tire & Rubber to pay $4.2 million in back pay to more than 1,300 workers in Mexico. Instead of asking American workers to accept less to compete in the global economy, the Biden administration is trying to make sure workers abroad get more. That’s not easy, but it’s an inspiring use of American power.

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