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Biden’s Belvidere Win Stands in Stark Contrast to Trump’s Broken Promises in Lordstown

Biden’s Belvidere Win Stands in Stark Contrast to Trump’s Broken Promises in Lordstown

Differing outcomes at the auto plants in Lordstown, Ohio, and Belvidere, Illinois, underscore the stark contrast between the approaches of Biden and Trump to the automotive industry and its workers.

President Joe Biden is seen speaking from a podium in front of a crowd of people holding signs in support of the United Auto Workers union.
President Joe Biden speaks about the economy and the United Auto Workers strike in Belvidere, Illinois, on November 9, 2023. (Getty/Olivier Douliery)
Key takeaways
  • While president, Donald Trump did not take tangible steps to fight for striking United Auto Workers (UAW) workers, whereas President Joe Biden outwardly took meaningful steps to support striking UAW workers—he became the first modern president to visit a picket line.

  • In Lordstown, Ohio, the local union president was criticized by then-President Trump when asking the president to help find ways to keep the General Motors plant in Lordstown open plant open; the departure of General Motors (GM) and the failure of Lordstown Motors resulted in lost jobs that have still not been recovered.

  • In Belvidere, Illinois, President Biden worked closely with the local UAW president and prioritized reopening the plant.

In 2015, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump told autoworkers, “If I’m elected, you won’t lose one plant, you’ll have plants coming into this country, you’re going to have jobs again, you won’t lose one plant, I promise you that.” Yet he did not pursue policies to fulfill that promise. Instead, offshoring of American jobs increased during his presidency. As president, Trump did not act in support of America’s workers—and they noticed.

Reuters reported that one Indiana union official said the following of Trump when Schneider Electric closed their Indiana plant and moved about 300 jobs to Mexico: “President Trump didn’t send any angry tweets on behalf of the factory’s workers or respond to workers who reached out to the White House for help.” This is not the only time Trump did not uplift workers looking for a fair shake. In fact, in Lordstown, Ohio, multiple former GM employees reported Trump “lied” to workers when he said manufacturing jobs were coming back to the region, with one adding of Trump, “He doesn’t care.”

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The differing approaches of Trump and Biden on labor and the working class can be seen clearly in their responses to issues at the Lordstown GM and the Belvidere Stellantis plants. Although Trump promised to revive Lordstown, Ohio, what ensued was lost jobs from a major plant closure and a community looking for answers. Meanwhile, Biden’s initiatives in Belvidere, Illinois, saved the city’s economic engine by bringing back the thousands of plant jobs Stellantis had announced it would be eliminating.

Trump vs. Biden’s approaches to the UAW strikes

When UAW workers went on strike against GM in 2019, then-President Trump had ample opportunity to put his thumb on the scale and support the working class voters who were crucial to his election in 2016. Trump very well could have pressured the brass at GM to keep the Lordstown plant open, but he failed to do so. UAW president Shawn Fain recalled, “I didn’t see him hold a rally. I didn’t see him stand up at the picket line, and I sure as hell didn’t hear him comment about it. He was missing in action.”

Four years later, during the 2023 UAW strike, Trump continued to not support striking union workers and leadership. He even went as far as saying, “your current negotiations don’t mean as much as you think,and, “I don’t think you’re picketing for the right thing,” in an address delivered at a nonunion auto factory. Trump went on to attack Fain, saying he was “not doing a good job in representing his union” while simultaneously asking for his endorsement. Despite Trump’s skepticism, the strike ended up winning workers “record pay increases … after years of stagnant wages and painful concessions following the 2008 financial crisis.” It also forced automakers to increase contributions to 401(k) accounts, restricted the use of temporary workers, and provided some protections to employees who work on electric vehicles (EVs) and in battery plants.

President Biden, meanwhile, supported striking workers and even became the first modern president to go to a picket line in support of striking workers. In Michigan, he put pressure on the Big Three, urging workers to “stick with it” and saying they should be able to bargain for a 40 percent raise:

One thing is real simple … the fact of the matter is that you guys, the UAW—you saved the automobile industry back in 2008 and before. You made a lot of sacrifices. You gave up a lot. And the companies were in trouble. But now they’re doing incredibly well. And guess what? You should be doing incredibly well too.

The White House liaison for the autoworker strike, Gene Sperling, was in daily contact with UAW leadership and the Big Three during the strike, demonstrating how important supporting union workers is to the Biden administration. While Biden’s picket line visit and backing of the striking workers reportedly “upset” auto company executives—Shawn Fain and other members of the union thanked Biden for standing with them and credited him in part for their successes. Other UAW officials saw Biden’s support for the striking workers as a “consequential episode in getting the deals across the finish line” because it provided them the political cover necessary to reach a deal.

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The Lordstown saga: Broken promises

In November 2018, GM announced the closure of the Lordstown, Ohio, plant, which was a significant blow to the community. The year before, Trump had promised manufacturing jobs were “all coming back” and told local residents of the Youngstown, Ohio, area not to move or sell their homes.

Around the same time, local UAW president Dave Green wrote to Trump twice asking for his help reopening the Lordstown plant. Trump attacked the local union leader who was fighting for his unit, calling on Green to “get his act together and produce.” While Trump also attempted to pressure GM CEO Mary Barra to keep the plant open by either selling it or doing “something quickly,” he failed to enact policies or take actions to prevent its closure; this led to the loss of the plant’s final 1,600 jobs. Former GM employee Ernie Long, who heard Trump’s Youngstown speech, bemoaned, “He said don’t sell your house, and look, now I got to sell my house that I just built three years ago.”

When GM closed the Lordstown plant, an estimated total of 4,352 factory workers lost their jobs, accounting for second and third shift eliminations in the years prior. Those jobs have not been recovered to date—not even after a new Ultium Cells battery plant created more than 1,750 jobs in 2022. Indeed, according to a March 2019 study conducted by Cleveland State University’s Center for Economic Development, for every four GM jobs lost at Lordstown between 2017 and 2019, two additional supply chain-related posts and an additional consumer service industry job were also lost. The study estimated that cumulatively, 7,711 people would lose their jobs in the area because of the closure. Additionally, it found that eliminating second and third shifts in 2017 and 2018 had a negative economic impact of more than $5 billion.

In October 2019, after UAW and GM reached a tentative agreement, it became clear that GM would not be reopening their plant. The next month, GM and Lordstown Motors reached an agreement to sell the plant so Lordstown Motors could build electric pickup trucks. What ensued was a complete and total catastrophe: Lordstown Motors announced plans to have trucks built by the end of 2020, and when then-Vice President Mike Pence visited the plant in Lordstown in June 2020, the company specified that they planned to manufacture about 20,000 trucks in 2021, their first year of production. Just months later, in September 2020, Trump held an event at the White House that brought attention to Lordstown Motors’ plans. At the event, then-Lordstown Motors CEO Steve Burns said they would be making “north of 100,000 [trucks] once we get going.” Trump reinforced that “the area was devastated when General Motors moved out” and echoed the company’s claim that they would eventually be producing “over 100,000 [trucks] a year.”

Just a few months later—after the election and before Trump left the White House—a prototype of the Lordstown Endurance pickup truck caught fire during a road test in a residential neighborhood. In March 2021, the Hindenburg Research investment firm released a report that accused Lordstown Motors of misleading their investors about the actual number of preorders they received and not being transparent about the production issues they were having. After a number of other issues, in February 2023, Lordstown Motors had to stop producing their electric trucks due to production and safety issues after manufacturing only 31 and selling only 19.

Finally, in June 2023, amid U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission probes, Lordstown Motors filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. They had manufactured only 80 electric trucks.

Ultium cells: How Biden helped laid-off Lordstown workers

When Ultium Cells LLC opened a plant in Warren, Ohio, to make electric vehicle batteries, they hired many former GM workers who were left in the lurch when the Lordstown plant closed.

However, these workers were not initially unionized and thus were unable to carry over their previous UAW memberships because Ultium did not fall under UAW’s master agreement with GM. On December 9, 2022, hourly employees at the battery plant voted overwhelmingly 710-to-16 to join UAW. Just days later, on December 12, the Biden administration announced the finalization of a $2.5 billion loan to Ultium to finance the construction of new lithium-ion battery cell manufacturing facilities. The project—a joint venture between GM and LG Energy Solution—is expected to create more than 11,000 good-paying jobs, including more than 700 UAW jobs, in their new Ohio facility.

A year later, in August 2023, UAW ratified an agreement for their Ultium Cells workers, leading to an increase in wages for about 1,100 employees. The agreement gave an immediate pay increase of more than 20 percent to all hourly employees at Ultium’s Warren plant.

President Biden’s Belvidere success story

In contrast to Trump’s lack of effective action in Lordstown, President Biden’s hands-on approach to the automotive industry and unions has had positive outcomes. For example, UAW’s recent wins and the Biden administration’s actions led to the revitalization of an idled plant in Belvidere, Illinois.

On February 28, 2023, Stellantis indefinitely shut down its Belvidere plant, resulting in layoffs for the 1,200 workers employed there. Kevin Logan, the local UAW president, said the plant closure and layoffs were “going to be catastrophic for this community.” While Stellantis initially claimed they wanted to transition the plant to make EVs, the company announced in June 2022 they would instead be building them in Windsor, Canada. Logan called the move “a big slap in the face.”

Stellantis also announced there would not be severance packages for the affected workers. According to Logan, a lifelong Belvidere resident who worked at the plant for 29 years, laid-off workers would not even be eligible for unemployment benefits if they declined to uproot their lives to work at a Stellantis plant in a different location. Thanks to the UAW’s negotiations during their previous contract, Belvidere was simply idled and could not be permanently closed until the union’s contract expired.

That’s when UAW and the Biden administration stepped in. In the leadup to the UAW strike in July 2023, reports began surfacingthat the UAW negotiations could determine the fate of the recently idled plant. CNBC reported the plant reopening “would be a major win for UAW leaders,” and Rich Boyer, the union’s vice president, called it a make-or-break issue. When Biden learned the Belvidere factory could close permanently, he made it a priority for his administration to save it, speaking to Stellantis officials about the plant and ordering an economic analysis of the area. In a move that stood in contrast to Trump’s inaction in Lordstown, President Biden opened a dialogue and personally discussed Belvidere with local UAW president Matt Frantzen to see what needed to be done to reopen the plant and get people back to work.

When Stellantis announced they would reopen the plant as part of the negotiations, they agreed to hire back 1,200 employees and 1,300 additional workers at the nearby battery factory. According to a report from ABC Chicago, “more than twice as many jobs will return to the city as those lost when the Belvidere plant first closed.” Frantzen put into perspective how unprecedented the reopening was given that the plant was idled, admitting, “We didn’t think they were going to bring Belvidere online.”

Shawn Fain credited Biden for helping to revitalize Belvidere. Additionally, the vice president of the local UAW chapter, Joey Szakalski, said the reopening of the Belvidere plant “saved the community” and credited Biden for being a “big part” of the win. Frantzen added, “[Biden has] always been for us, with us. He proved that.” And Belvidere plant employee Jason Vassar reinforced that the plant reopening would “definitely help this community a huge amount.”

See also


The stories of the Lordstown and Belvidere plants demonstrate a stark contrast between the approaches of Presidents Trump and Biden toward the American automotive industry and its workers. Trump’s approach in the Lordstown community played a part in the loss of thousands of jobs. Moreover, his lack of support during the UAW strikes further highlighted his disconnect with union members and the working class. On the other hand, President Biden’s proactive approach in Belvidere played a pivotal role in saving the Stellantis plant and the community. This success in Belvidere, where the number of jobs was not only preserved but also increased, stands in contrast to the disappointment and economic decline experienced in Lordstown. The stories of these two plants underscore the tangible impact and importance of presidential leadership on the lives of American workers.

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Jeremy Berns

Former Director of Research, Advocacy and Outreach


Advocacy and Outreach

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