(Bloomberg) -- Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have scheduled trips to Detroit next week, after striking auto workers criticized the presidential candidates for their absence from picket lines.
More than 46,000 General Motors Co. workers walked off the job Sunday after their contract expired. Those workers are the exact kind of voters Democrats will need to defeat President Donald Trump in crucial swing states like Michigan in next year’s election.
But as of Friday, only two major Democratic candidates — Tim Ryan and Amy Klobuchar — had joined workers protesting at GM facilities.
Others have tweeted support for the United Auto Workers from campaign stops in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early primary states, denouncing GM for canceling health-care coverage for unionized employees during a contract impasse.
“Where are these people at?” said Daniel Rider, a 46-year-old GM worker as he picketed in front of the GM headquarters in downtown Detroit Thursday.
“They want help from the union. They come to the union for us to vote for them,” said Rider, who works at the GM powertrain plant in Romulus, Michigan, and gives $10 a month to a United Auto Workers political action committee.
“Where are they at now when General Motors is putting their foot on our neck?” he said.
As Rider spoke, Joe Biden was holding a fundraiser in Chicago. Warren was going to Iowa. And Sanders was rallying supporters in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
GM plants and their workers are concentrated in places including Ohio and Michigan -- crucial states to win a presidential election but not on the early primary calendar.
Since 46,000 unionized GM workers walked off the job on Sunday, only two major candidates have joined them on the picket lines. Ryan, a congressman whose Ohio district was battered by job losses when GM idled its Lordstown plant, has been tweeting from union halls and factories across Ohio and Michigan since Monday.
Kobuchar, a Minnesota senator, took coffee and doughnuts to striking workers at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant on Thursday.
Klobuchar is on a tour of the “Blue Wall” states — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — that were supposed to ensure Hillary Clinton a victory in 2016 but all went for Trump. Those states all have auto assembly or supplier plants, but do not have early primaries.
But until Friday, other Democrats were lending support primarily though social media.
Asked Thursday night in Iowa City if she would support the striking employees in person, Warren said: “I hope I get a chance to, but I’ve already joined them online. I’ve already sent my support. And I think that’s what we ought to be doing all across this country. We need to stand with the workers.”
Warren will now go to Detroit on Sunday, and Sanders next Wednesday, their campaigns said. Details on both visits were still being finalized.
Eddie Vale, a Democratic strategist who works for labor unions, said if he were advising a presidential campaign, he would drop everything to make a visit possible. “When there is an active strike and workers are on the line, you go and support them.”
The irony, Vale said, is that candidates are talking about labor issues more than any time in recent memory.
Health care has become a central issue in the campaign -- even to the extent that Biden and Sanders have been in a months-long debate about whose plan is better for unionized workers.
Warren has promised she’ll nominate a union leader as labor secretary, and that a union representative would be present at trade negotiations.
“I’m surprised there hasn’t been more action, and I’m not sure why not either,” said Laura Bucci, who studies labor unions and politics at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “Strikes are really hard, and kind words mean something, but a physical presence would mean something more.”
One possible complicating factor, Bucci said, is a corruption investigation swirling around top UAW officials. As the union was negotiating a new contract last month, federal agents were executing search warrants on UAW offices and the homes of its president, Gary Jones, and his predecessor.
Trump, too, has largely kept his distance. After reports Tuesday that Trump was actively working to mediate the dispute, the White House denied involvement.
Workers say they’re getting plenty of support from members of Congress and singled out Representatives Debbie Dingell and Rashida Tlaib.
“At the local level, out at the plants, politicians have been showing up left and right,” said Stephanie Carpenter, a 22-year GM worker from Trenton, Michigan. “We’re not playing around, so you -- yeah, you -- better show your faces, you better support us, because come election day, we’ll clean house.”
Carpenter, 44, supported Sanders in 2016 but said she’s still looking at other candidates this year. Asked why more Democrats aren’t on the picket lines, she vented her frustration at Trump.
“Why isn’t Trump here? He’s our president. He wants to be involved,” she said. “Why isn’t he standing out here on this picket line saying, ‘Make an agreement. Let’s go. Let’s get busy.’”
“I don’t see no Secret Service pulling up anytime soon, do you?”
(Updates with newly scheduled Detroit visits by Sanders and Warren.)
--With assistance from Laura Litvan and Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou.
To contact the reporters on this story: Gregory Korte in Washington at email@example.com;Gabrielle Coppola in Detroit at firstname.lastname@example.org
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