FORT DODGE, Iowa — Sen. Tim Scott said during a Monday campaign event, when asked about the United Auto Workers strike, that former President Ronald Reagan “gave us a great example” when he fired striking federal workers in the 1980s.
It’s the latest of several critical comments Scott has made about the auto workers, even as other GOP presidential candidates steer clear of criticizing them amid a strike at three plants so far.
Scott’s remark came in response to a question at a meet and greet in Fort Dodge: “Would you as president … insert yourself in the labor talks?” an Iowa voter asked.
Scott then repeated the question back to the audience: “Would I as president of the United States insert myself into this labor dispute?”
“Let me answer the first question,” Scott said. “I think Ronald Reagan gave us a great example when federal employees decided they were going to strike. He said, you strike, you’re fired. Simple concept to me. To the extent that we can use that once again, absolutely.”
Scott’s campaign declined to comment on why he referenced firing federal workers when asked how he would handle the current strike by the autoworkers.
Instead, campaign spokesperson Matt Gorman said in a statement that Scott “has repeatedly made clear, both at that event and others, that taxpayers shouldn’t subsidize any deal with the UAW and auto companies.”
Scott’s criticisms on Monday extended to President Joe Biden, who has defended striking auto workers and repeatedly characterized himself as “the most “pro-union president in American history.”
“Part of the challenge that we have today with President Biden is — and I don’t mean this to be disingenuous, I mean this to be sincere — I’m not sure if the words are bought and paid for, but certainly he has been leased by the unions,” Scott said.
Scott has made his criticisms of unions a focal point of his campaign, often slamming teachers unions — but lately widening his scope to include the United Auto Workers.
While introducing his economic plan during a policy roundtable event in Duncan, South Carolina, last week, Scott criticized the union’s demands as they reached the end of their contract with the big automakers.
“We’re seeing the UAW fight for more benefits and less hours working,” Scott said at the event. “More pay and fewer days on the job. It’s a disconnect from work, and we have to find a way to encourage and inspire people to go back to work.”
Altogether, the comments mark some of the strongest criticism of the auto workers among Republican presidential candidates, as the party has shifted to include more blue-collar workers in recent years.
Former President Donald Trump has criticized UAW president Shawn Fain, who has himself been critical of Trump. But he has taken a more sympathetic tone with the auto workers broadly, and he is planning to speak to striking workers in Detroit the day of the next Republican primary debate, which Trump is skipping. The New York Times was first to report Trump’s planned visit.
“The auto workers are not going to have any jobs when you come right down to it, because if you take a look at what they’re doing with electric cars, electric cars are going to be made in China,” Trump said on the most recent episode of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” adding: “The auto workers are being sold down the river by their leadership.”
During a campaign event in Iowa over the weekend, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took a question on the UAW strike — but he opted against directly criticizing the union workers, instead saying he didn’t have enough information before turning his answer to Biden’s “push for electric vehicles,” which he said was “destructive of the automobile industry as a whole.”
“Ford workers are going to be better off if people can buy a gas-powered Ford F-150,” DeSantis said.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, meanwhile, called the UAW strike “a battle of the future of American transportation” but did not criticize the union workers.
“The union workers are going, wow, we’re gonna switch to all EVs, we’re going to have less jobs, we’re gonna switch to all EVs, you know, we’re shipping our future and you are going to be dependent on China for our transportation needs,” Burgum said at a campaign event in Laconia, New Hampshire, on Monday.