Tom Perez seemed to play lots of roles Wednesday as he rallied striking United Auto Workers outside General Motors’ Tonawanda engine plant: cheerleader, pep talker, former U.S. labor secretary, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Donald Trump critic and Buffalo guy.
The Canisius High School alumnus breezed through his hometown Wednesday to attend a long-scheduled fundraiser for national Democrats at the downtown Curtiss Hotel, but not before spending more than an hour encouraging about 100 auto workers — and even walking the picket line — at the sprawling facility’s Niagara Street gate.
Perez combined his support for strikers with a blistering attack on President Trump, who he said has broken all the promises that attracted so many union workers to his 2016 campaign.
“Mr. President, it’s time for you to walk this picket line with these workers,” Perez shouted to his audience. “He purports to want to help workers and he’s doing just the opposite … with his empty promises and lies.”
Perez, who served as Barack Obama’s labor secretary in the aftermath of the Great Recession, lambasted GM for what he called forsaking workers who passed on raises and benefits back in 2008-09.
He said Democrats helped GM emerge from its hard times because “it was best for the American people.”
“There was a basic bargain,” he said, “when times get better we should share in the prosperity. They had GM’s back in 2009; they should have their backs now.”
Perez spent much of his time at the plant talking with picketers wearing red UAW shirts. He traded stories with them about Buffalo roots, posed for photos, and urged them to continue their effort.
In his remarks, he pointed to widening rifts between pay for corporate executives, like those at GM, and assembly line workers as evidence of a growing “inequality” problem.
“The rich have gotten a lot richer while wages and benefits for workers have been flat,” he said.
But the chairman saved his most pointed remarks for Trump, who he said is guided by “a moral compass that’s underwater.”
He predicted the 2020 election will build on the Democratic success of 2018 because of one issue: the president.
“The only thing that’s greater than his number of tweets is his number of broken promises,” he said.
“When you have an elected official involved in felonious conduct, [he] does not deserve to be in office,” he added.
Perez was joined at the event by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy J. Zellner and Assemblyman Patrick B. Burke. Just a day after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo expressed his solidarity with UAW strikers while in Buffalo, Hochul voiced her own strong support and joined Perez on the picket line.
“We need to send a message that you don’t mess with working men and women of the middle class in places like Buffalo,” Hochul said. “There will be consequences at the polls.”