Facebook Twitter

Imports are autos non grata in Michigan

SHARE Imports are autos non grata in Michigan

WASHINGTON — Bob Allison walked into the interview with all the professional credentials needed to get a job as Rep. David Bonior's press secretary.

But among the questions about his education and work experience, Allison got a zinger: What kind of car did he drive?

He admitted that he owned a 1993 Nissan Sentra and was told that there was a problem: Bonior demands that while on the job, his staffers drive American vehicles made by union workers.

Allison sold the Japanese-made Nissan and landed a 1996 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and the job.

In southeast Michigan, union autoworkers dominate the Democratic Party. Bonior and some other elected Democrats are reluctant to offend those voters by having an employee representing the office in a foreign car.

"For me, it's about values and loyalty," said Bonior, who refuses to set foot in a foreign car. "This cuts to the core of who I am."

At least two other Michigan Democrats — Reps. John Dingell and Dale Kildee — require that any staffer driving to work at their offices have a car made by members of the United Auto Workers union.

"The automobile industry is the No. 1 industry in my district," Kildee said. "I am sensitive to that fact, and my staff are required to be sensitive to that fact."

In some parts of Michigan, your wheels are a reflection of your character. Some union families will slam the front door in your face if you dare to park a foreign car in the driveway.

And if you drive your import to a wedding reception or retirement party at one of the many union halls across the state, you might be barred from the parking lot and have to leave it down the street.

Allison said he was happy to unload the Nissan. In his hometown of Lansing, where General Motors Corp. has more than 7,000 employees, he took a lot of grief for his foreign car.

"I'd go over to my friends' houses and their dads would razz me," he said.

The domestic vehicle policy also applies to the lawmakers' families. Debbie Dingell, president of the General Motors Foundation and wife of the congressman, recently considered replacing her Chevrolet Blazer with a Buick Rendezvous.

She changed her mind after learning that the Rendezvous is made in Mexico. She is buying another Blazer.

"The UAW workers have been very good to me and very good to John," she said. "They are our constituents and our friends. This is a way to support them." On the Net: United Auto Workers union: www.uaw.org