Is the autoworkers union endorsing Foster or Rashid in the 11th District? It depends who you ask

Just weeks after members of a local labor union for automobile factory workers first appeared in a commercial supporting U.S. Rep. Bill Foster’s reelection campaign, a multistate office of the same union has endorsed the Naperville Democrat’s challenger in their party’s primary for the 11th District seat.

Even though laborers with UAW Local 1268 — including its president, Matt Frantzen — enthusiastically praised Foster in the ad and thanked him for working with President Joe Biden to save their jobs and reopen Stellantis’ idle Belvidere Assembly Plant, the UAW’s Region 4 office in downstate Ottawa is backing rival Qasim Rashid.

In a news release issued Thursday by Rashid’s campaign, regional UAW representative John Gedney called Naperville’s Rashid “a proven advocate for working people” and proclaimed him to be the only person in the race “aligned with UAW's principles.”

In response, UAW Local 1268 on Friday formally endorsed Foster.

“Bill Foster had our backs from Day One,” said Frantzen, whose group officially is the International Union of United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America. “We’re proud to have his back so we can make sure he remains our representative in Congress.”

Stellantis announced in December 2022 it was shuttering the Belvidere factory the following February. The facility is in the 16th Congressional District, but many of its workers live in the part of Belvidere that’s in the 11th.

After the company’s announcement, Foster called local union leaders and offered assistance, Frantzen said. Foster subsequently spoke with Biden about the issue during the president’s June 2023 visit to Chicago, and saving the plant became a White House priority.

Biden ordered an economic analysis and spoke to company officials about the plant, and eventually Stellantis agreed — in exchange for promised state and federal incentives — to hire back 1,200 employees to build pickup trucks and to add 1,300 more workers for a new electric-vehicle battery factory. When Biden visited Belvidere in November to celebrate the deal with union members, Foster flew with him on Air Force One.

“Bill’s offer to help wasn’t just hollow words — he took action,” Frantzen said in a statement issued by the Foster campaign. “He went to bat for us.”

A Foster spokesman said the congressman is proud to have the local union’s endorsement.

The campaign commercial featuring Frantzen and other factory workers debuted Jan. 30. They talk about Foster’s efforts in Belvidere, call him “one of us” and proclaim they’re voting to reelect him. Next week, Frantzen will be Foster’s guest at Biden’s State of the Union address.

Regardless, the 12-state regional UAW office endorsed Rashid, a human rights lawyer making his first bid for elected office in Illinois after two attempts in Virginia.

Gedney praised Rashid for not accepting donations from American auto industry giants Ford Motor Co. or General Motors. While Foster has taken campaign donations from those and other companies, Rashid’s refusal to accept donations from special interest groups is a key part of his platform.

Gedney also noted Rashid’s oft-repeated call for a cease-fire in Gaza in his endorsement announcement. The Israel-Hamas war has been another critical campaign issue for Rashid.

In the news release touting the endorsement, Rashid said he’s grateful to the union “for recognizing my unwavering commitment to people and working families.”

Friday, Rashid said he sought the regional UAW’s endorsement by completing a questionnaire. Foster’s campaign confirmed it did, too.

“Clearly we made the stronger case,” Rashid said in a telephone interview.

Rashid said he didn’t fault Local 1268 for backing Foster. “They’re good people and hardworking Americans,“ he said.

A spokesman for the national UAW couldn’t be reached Friday.

The 11th District encompasses portions of Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Will, DeKalb and Boone counties. Foster has served the district since 2013, following nearly three years representing the nearby 14th District.

The winner of the March 19 Democratic primary will face one of three Republican candidates in the Nov. 5 general election. The Republican hopefuls are Susan Hathaway-Altman of Geneva, Jerry Evans of Warrenville and Kent Mercado of Bartlett.

Daily Herald wire services contributed to this report.

President Joe Biden puts on a UAW Local 1268 shirt before speaking to union members in Belvidere in November 2023. U.S. Rep. Bill Foster helped build the president’s interest in the planned closure of an auto factory there, and eventually the operation was saved. Associated Press
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