Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., appeared at a General Motors plant in Wentzville, Missouri, earlier this week to join members of the United Auto Workers on the picket line against the Big Three automakers. There, he called himself “pro-worker,” challenged the companies to give workers a pay raise and more time off, and said he’s with the workers “100 percent.”
While he is rallying against the Big Three now, he has previously received campaign contributions from the automakers. During his first run for Senate in 2018 and through 2020, Hawley’s PAC received $8,500 from GM’s PAC, according to records filed with the Federal Election Commission. His Senate campaign received $3,500 from Ford’s PAC and another $1,000 from a GM executive during that same time period. His PAC and campaign received an additional $13,000 from PACs associated with Toyota, a Japanese company notorious for running non-union shops in the United States.
Asked about the donations, a spokesperson for Hawley pointed to the senator’s 2021 promise to no longer accept money from corporate PACs.
As he’s expressed solidarity with the workers — now two weeks into their strike against GM, Ford, and Stellantis — the senator has also insisted, like many in his party, that the transition to electric vehicles is to blame for the plight of workers because it sends more jobs to China. That position puts him at odds with the United Auto Workers, whose president recently lauded the Biden administration for rejecting “the false choice between a good job and a green job.”
Hawley’s apparent show of solidarity with the workers was met with skepticism from organized labor, which has historically been critical of his records on workers’ rights. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, or AFL-CIO, has given Hawley a 12 percent lifetime score, and the UAW gave him a 0 percent rating when it last scored him in 2019. The senator has generally aligned himself with his party’s anti-union stance, though he has softened some of his positions in recent years, including a vote to prevent a contract from being imposed on rail workers and stated opposition to a federal “right-to-work” law.
David Cook, president of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 655 and Missouri AFL-CIO board member, found Hawley’s appearance “deplorable, disingenuous, and disgusting,” adding that Hawley was “nowhere to be found” when workers at the Wentzville plant were on the picket line in 2019. “This is clearly nothing but a personal political maneuver to try to defraud the voters of Missouri about who he really is,” Cook told The Intercept.
“You simply need to look at his voting record to understand what he feels about workers’ rights and in particular union member rights,” Cook added.
Hawley has opposed the Biden administration’s efforts to boost production of electric vehicles and the batteries and infrastructure needed to power them in the United States. That position on its own belies true support for workers, Cook said. “I am not sure how you can portray yourself as being concerned for workers’ rights and welfare,” he said, “if you are not willing to address the biggest issue out there which affects all people and that is the recent surge in extreme weather events.”
The UAW, for its part, has at times criticized the Biden administration for its investments related to the green transition: for example, for sending money to plants with no wage, working condition, or union guarantees. UAW President Shawn Fain has so far withheld the union’s endorsement of the president, saying that any endorsement would have to be earned, expecting “actions, not words.” Joe Biden, in his historic appearance on the picket line this week — and his affirmation that if companies are getting “record profits,” the workers should be getting “record contracts” — displayed a receptiveness to Fain’s challenge.
In Congress, Hawley has opposed measures that are important to workers. He opposes the PRO Act, a federal bill backed by the UAW that aims to empower workers to organize and join a union and protect them from corporate retaliation. Just this week, he told Insider that the act would “hurt workers more than it helps.” Hawley also joined the rest of his party in opposing Biden’s nominee to lead the Labor Department, Julie Su — a nomination supported by much of organized labor.
Since entering the Senate in 2019, Hawley has moderated his position on some issues pertaining to workers. While he supported a 2018 ballot referendum to impose anti-union “right-to-work” laws that was ultimately rejected by voters, Hawley has since said he would not “countermand” the will of the voters and does not support it at the federal level. That same year, Missourians voted to increase the minimum wage to $12. Hawley derided the idea as being “out of the mainstream.” Since then, though, he has introduced legislation to require billion-dollar companies to pay their workers a $15 minimum wage.
Cook argues that there are clear ways for a senator to prove themselves as being pro-worker. Citing polls that show broad American support for unions, Cook noted that still, union membership is low. “If senators would worry about working towards getting more workers the right to unionize rather than spending their time talking about shutting down the government, frivolous impeachments hearings, or just looking for a microphone to get personal attention, workers would be better served.”