It’s the role of One Hill Harbor that Michigan voters will hate the most

Photo illustration by Erin O’Flynn/The Daily Beast/Getty Images

Like any good Democratic politician running for office in the heart of the American auto industry, Hale-Harper has presented himself as a staunch ally of the United Auto Workers, the industry’s largest labor union.

The actor, who is currently running for Michigan’s soon-to-be-opened U.S. Senate seat in 2024, Harper has vocally supported the UAW in contentious contract negotiations with Detroit’s Big Three automakers — which led to a strike that began Friday.

The “CSI:NY” actor, who held top positions in the Screen Actors Guild, often touted his labor credibility on the campaign trail. What he hasn’t mentioned yet, however, is his history as a prominent booster of one of the UAW’s most hated enemies: Toyota.

On a number of occasions, Harper has been a promoter for the Japanese auto giant. Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, is not only a fierce competitor to the Big Three, it also operates 14 manufacturing plants in the United States, none of which are unionized.

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It is difficult to overstate the antipathy among many US auto workers toward brands like Toyota – and their rejection of unionization. If Harper drives one of the vehicles he promoted onto a lot owned by the UAW, he won’t be allowed to park it: Since 2010, the union has banned non-manufacturer foreign cars from its property.

In the 2000s, Harper appeared in numerous promotional campaigns for Lexus, Toyota’s luxury automobile division. In 2011, he narrated and appeared in a television commercial for a new Lexus model, and also began hosting a Lexus-sponsored program called “Verses and Flows,” which the company described as “a 30-minute variety show featuring spoken word.” And the musical talent created by Lexus. The show ended in 2017.

Harper, a self-described race car enthusiast, talks about the superiority of the Toyota and Lexus brands on television and in print, drawing on his own experiences driving them. He once told Motor Trend magazine that he got a new Lexus to try out every few months because he was doing voice-over work for the company.

In 2009, Harper said he had owned a Toyota Prius since 2005, and described the hybrid as a “fantastic vehicle.” In 2011, he was featured in local news in the San Francisco Bay Area in a segment promoting a new Lexus model as “the most fuel-efficient luxury vehicle.”

In at least one case, Harper served as a walking advertisement for the company. In May 2012, Harper was featured in Motor Trend magazine, where he posed next to a Toyota race car emblazoned with his name, wearing head-to-toe Toyota Racing gear with his name on it. A month ago, Harper participated in a celebrity promotional car race hosted by Toyota.

Over the years, Toyota has also promoted Harper. In 2011, it presented him with the “Lexus Pursuit of Perfection” award at an event in Atlanta. In 2016, Toyota donated $10,000 to the Harper Foundation to benefit black youth. He put up with the check.

In response to questions from The Daily Beast, Karthik Ganapathy, a spokesperson for Harper, said: “As an accomplished artist and philanthropist, Hill Harper has partnered with dozens of brands, companies and nonprofits over the years.”

“In this race, Hill has been the only unequivocal advocate for workers including the striking UAW workers, unlike other candidates who have sided with management in implying that workers are unreasonable in their demands,” Ganapathy said.

Obama and Democrats line up behind UAW as strike continues

The comment is almost certainly a reference to a tweet sent by Harper’s primary rival, Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), on Friday, in which she said that both sides of the strike should not let “the perfect be the enemy of the good.” “In the negotiations.

In a tweet on Saturday, Harper appeared to rebuke Slotkin, if not by name, when he said workers don’t demand “perfection.”

Slotkin, a front-runner in the primary, has been endorsed by a number of Michigan labor unions, and appeared on UAW picket lines in Michigan over the weekend.

Harper’s campaign also said his only auto promotional contract was with General Motors, though it declined to provide detailed information about the extent of his relationship with Toyota.

For a Michigan politician, Harper’s ties to a foreign automaker are unusual on multiple levels — and potentially damaging to the pro-union Detroit manufacturer brand he’s trying to cultivate in Michigan’s Senate race.

Known for his roles on shows like “CSI: NY” and “The Good Doctor,” Harper is running as a candidate in a primary field where Rep. Elissa Slotkin, representing the center-left swing district, is the favorite. Michigan’s closely divided general election contest will likely be one of the most competitive in the country in 2024.

Although it is virtually unheard of to see a major candidate in Michigan who was on the payroll of a foreign automobile company, it is rare to see a major candidate, from either party, being seen driving around anywhere in the state in a foreign car. .

Sensing the optics, Harper added a Detroit-made car to his garage — long after he launched his campaign.

On September 5, an employee at a Ford dealership in Southfield, Michigan, posted a photo on Facebook with Harper, proudly saying he had helped the actor purchase a new Ford F-150 hybrid pickup truck. (Harper’s spokesperson did not answer a question about whether he still owns any Toyotas or Lexuses.)

But the UAW strike adds a new dimension to Harper’s previous paid boost to the Toyota and Lexus brands. Unionized workers at Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis – formerly Chrysler – have been negotiating with the companies for months over a new deal governing wages and working conditions for about 150,000 employees.

With workers testifying that their wages have failed to reflect their work or keep up with economic conditions — let alone keep pace with executive pay increases — the UAW is demanding a 40 percent pay increase over four years, along with the restoration of retirement benefits.

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The Big Three criticized these demands as unreasonable, and countered by offering a wage increase of anywhere from 14.5 to 20 percent. Rejecting this offer, the UAW organizes targeted strikes on rotary car manufacturing facilities across the country.

Harper has tried to join labor and major labor unions.

“Auto workers are fighting against inadequate wages, limited benefits, and unsafe working conditions,” Harper said in a tweet on Monday. “It’s a fight for real increases in the cost of living, to make every auto job a good job, and to secure jobs as we transition to electric vehicles.”

After the strike became official Friday morning, Harper’s social media activity shaped a stream of enthusiastic support for the UAW, which featured strongly pro-union statements and photos of himself joining striking workers on picket lines around Michigan.

“For too long, companies have undercut workers to cover their bottom line, and it ends now,” he declared on Twitter.

With labor issues in the auto industry likely to be at the forefront of Michigan voters’ concerns this election season, Harper’s association with Toyota may be difficult for some to swallow.

For decades, there has been a contentious and confrontational relationship between Toyota and the UAW. The company operates 14 manufacturing plants in the United States, exclusively in states with less union-friendly laws.

In 2009, as Harper began promoting Toyota products, the company closed its last unionized plant in the country — located in Fremont, California — causing more than 5,000 UAW members to lose their jobs.

Union leaders criticized the decision in harsh terms. Its president at the time, Ron Gettelfinger, called it “devastating,” saying the workers “deserve better than to be abandoned by this company, which has benefited greatly from their work, productivity, and commitment to quality.”

More recently, Toyota found itself on the other side of the UAW in a debate over legislation proposed by House Democrats to increase the size of the tax credit to $12,500 for consumers who buy union-made electric vehicles.

Although Harper’s current rhetoric and positions are stark compared to his long and warm relationship with Toyota, this is not the first time that the candidate’s background appears to be mismatched with the brand he is building during his election campaign.

In July, The Daily Beast reported that Harper’s account of his current ties to the state was questionable. In his launch video, directed at his son, he talked about the importance of his upbringing in Michigan — but until his campaign launch, Harper was raising his son in Seattle, Washington. Other records indicate that he resided in Seattle and California, although he owned property in Michigan.

Read more at the Daily Beast.

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