Union-bashing Ramaswamy expresses 'empathy' for striking UAW workers during Michigan visit

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MACKINAC ISLAND — Straight-talking Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy, who has bashed unions and called for a cutoff of federal funds to violent cities, delivered a softer message Friday when asked about the UAW and Detroit after addressing a Republican conference on Mackinac Island.

Ramaswamy, the Ohio entrepreneur and former biotech executive who has seen a rise in GOP opinion polls while remaining far behind former President Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential sweepstakes, is the only candidate for the White House scheduled to speak at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference that began Friday. That's a contrast from past conferences, which have featured many GOP contenders.

Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy holds his 3-year-old son Karthik on Main Street on Mackinac Island Friday after delivering a speech to the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference at the Grand Hotel.
Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy holds his 3-year-old son Karthik on Main Street on Mackinac Island Friday after delivering a speech to the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference at the Grand Hotel.

Ramaswamy has bashed teachers unions, called for the "elimination" of federal employee unions and says on his campaign website he wants to repeal a 1962 presidential executive order that granted federal employees the right to collective bargaining.

But he said in a Friday interview with the Free Press he has sympathy for the United Auto Workers, which on Friday expanded its strike to 38 General Motors and Stellantis sites while continuing to picket three plants nationally, including the Ford Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne.

“I really empathize with the position they’re in," Ramaswamy said. "Wages that have stayed flat, spiking inflation, interest rates going up. That lands at the feet of the failed administration of President (Joe) Biden.”

Asked whether he supports a 32-hour workweek, which is one of the UAW demands, Ramaswamy said: “I don’t think that’s the right way for America to go," but he believes that contract request "is coming from a place of frustration.”

Biden announced Friday he will visit Michigan on Tuesday to show support for striking autoworkers by joining them on the picket line. Trump is scheduled to visit Detroit on Wednesday in what is also expected to be a show of support for autoworkers.

Ramaswamy said he sees Biden's planned Tuesday visit as an effort to deflect from his own failures. Asked what, if any, action he would take in connection with the strike if he was president, Ramaswamy deflected, saying the situation would not have arisen if he were in the White House.

Ramaswamy has said previously he opposes public sector unions but supports some unions representing workers employed by private companies.

Another policy position set out on Ramaswamy's campaign website is to "withhold federal funding for cities that refuse to protect Americans from violent crime."

Detroit is frequently listed among the nation's most violent cities, based largely on FBI crime statistics, though city officials are reporting a decline this year.

Ramaswamy deflected again Friday when asked whether he would cut off federal funding to Detroit.

More: Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference reflects vastly changed Michigan GOP

"I am not saying for any particular city," he said. In general, “any city that refuses to enforce basic laws that protect their citizens should not be subsidized by the federal government.” By cutting off funding, "those cities are going to get their act together," and it's known that the way to reduce violent crime is with more police on the streets, he said.

But in his Friday speech to the conference, Ramaswamy, who has called for a 74% reduction in the federal government workforce, repeated his pledge to "get rid of" the FBI, along with other federal agencies that include the IRS and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The FBI has partnered with the city on addressing violent crime, and, most recently, is part of a "One Detroit" initiative announced in April to combat and prevent violent crime in Detroit. The FBI is also a partner in Project Safe Neighborhoods, a plan announced in 2022 to curb gun violence in some of the city's most crime-ridden areas during the summer months.

The polling aggregator FiveThirtyEight currently places Ramaswamy third in the Republican presidential race, with 8% support among likely GOP primary voters, behind Trump with 55% and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, with 14% support.

The Mackinac conference is held every other year. This weekend's version, which ends Sunday, has been slimmed down amid party rancor and reduced support from major donors.

Contact Paul Egan: 517-372-8660 or pegan@freepress.com. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @paulegan4.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Union-bashing Vivek Ramaswamy says he empathizes with striking UAW