UAW President Bob King

UAW President Bob King

When the White House dropped the NAFTA-style Korea Free Trade deal at 7pm Friday night, it was followed by an even-later Friday night news dump from the one union with a stake in the agreement. Around 10:30pm, the United Auto Workers (UAW) released a statement of its support for the job-killing trade agreement with Korea, claiming that its members would actually benefit from the deal.

UAW President Bob King tells a more revealing story about the union’s curious support for the NAFTA-style Korea Free Trade deal, though. In an interview with labor reporter Mike Elk for In These Times, King makes the shocking admission that the union endorsed the deal simply to “reward the [Obama] Administration for good behavior” just for including the unions in the discussions.

King countered that the deal was not perfect; there were many things he objected to about the agreement. However, King added that, “It was important to endorse in order to reward the administration for its good behavior of including labor in negotiations.”

So the White House includes UAW to some extent in its negotiation of yet another NAFTA-style free trade deal, and despite tremendous opposition from virtually every other union and his own staff, Bob King unilaterally decided to endorse the Korea deal “to reward the administration for its good behavior.”

Bob King appears to live in an alternate universe in which the White House has even thought of “good behavior” when dealing with major priorities from labor unions. That universe also doesn’t account for the fact that the best-case scenario for the UAW is 800 new jobs at most from this deal.

It appears as though King stands virtually alone in the AFL-CIO for endorsing the deal. Steelworkers President Leo Gerard took a swipe at King for failing to consult his own members and other unions before endorsing late Friday night. But some of the harshest public criticism yet comes from inside the UAW. Labor Notes reports that one UAW official slammed King’s endorsement as “hell of a thing to do, forsaking everybody’s interest for your own.” Local leaders aren’t happy, either.

UAW sources suggest King felt he had to back the trade deal as payback to Obama for pumping billions into failing automakers in 2009—although the bailout of Chrysler and GM laid off tens of thousands of workers and cut pay—in half—for future auto workers.

There was little understanding why King would go out on his own on such a key issue to labor. He told In These Times it was important to stay “relevant.”

“This is an about-face for the UAW and is flying in the face of the AFL-CIO,” one UAW official said. “A resolution passed at our last convention calling for fundamental changes to the Korea deal, and it didn’t happen. King just went ahead and approved it. It’s a hell of a thing to do, forsaking everybody’s interest for your own.”

Local leaders were taken off guard by King’s backing for the pact.

Joe Cardona is second VP of Local 174 near Detroit, which has a history of actively opposing free trade agreements. Cardona was surprised by King’s support and said, “There’s not a lot of happy people around here,” but, citing King’s commitment to solidarity with workers in other countries, added, “Sometimes you gotta go down a road you’re not used to going down and I hope it’s where we need to be.”

On the question whether King’s stance was quid pro quo for the bailout, he said, “I’m curious as to what was said to our organization when we were on the edge of the cliff.”

Mike Elk has more on the internal politics of King’s election, which aren’t so pretty, either.

In short, Bob King took the UAW out on a limb in backing the NAFTA-style Korea Free Trade deal. It looks like the rest of labor is about ready to start sawing off that limb.

More Firedoglake coverage of the NAFTA-style Korea Free Trade deal.