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Robertson Claims A Quarter of Auto Workers Use Drugs; UAW Reacts Angrily

November 3, 1987

LANSING, Mich. (AP) _ Republican presidential hopeful Pat Robertson said Tuesday that a quarter of America’s auto workers use illegal drugs, leading to declining productivity, a remark United Auto Workers President Owen Bieber called ″off the wall.″

Robertson said his candidacy could appeal to blue-collar workers, such as auto workers, in Michigan and across the nation, even though they traditionally have voted Democratic.

″If the auto workers want jobs, what they have to recognize is that one out of every four people on the assembly line, according to statistics I have, is using drugs. That’s a 25 percent drop in productivity right there, possibly. So I think the auto workers would appreciate a tough anti-drug program,″ he said.

Robertson said later he wasn’t criticizing auto workers, who a month ago were compared unfavorably to Soviet mechanics by Vice President George Bush.

″I am in no way disparaging anybody. My goodness,″ the former television evangelist said. ″In our society, we consume 60 percent of all the world’s illegal drugs and drugs are a problem and they’re a problem in the workforce.

″People smoke marijuana. They take cocaine. It’s just one of those things. I’m not disparaging auto workers. I’m just saying that in industry in general, that it is estimated by certain sources that about one out of every four workers is using some kind of an illicit substance.

″I think that squares with the national average. About 25 percent of our people take drugs. That’s not a disparagement to anybody. It’s just a fact. If we took drugs out of the workplace, it would help the other three on the assembly line who don’t take drugs. That’s all.″ Bieber said the comment ″shows ignorance of the facts and poor political judgment in equal measure.″

″A person aspiring to the presidency shouldn’t be tossing around off-the- wall remarks in the area he knows nothing about,″ Bieber said.

″There is no rampant drug use among autoworkers and workers will certainly not welcome Mr. Robertson’s ‘get tough’ position on drugs if it lends support to more so called ‘sweeps’ and proposals for mandatory testing,″ he said.

The UAW has 1.1 million members nationwide and close to 400,000 in Michigan.

Bieber said the remark indicates ″Republicans who still nurture the dream of winning working people’s votes in Michigan just can’t seem to hide their true anti-worker feelings and continue to fall on their faces at every turn.″

Frank Garrison, president of the 650,000-member Michigan AFL-CIO, said he knew of no data to support Robertson’s statement.

″It’s stupid for someone to say something like that, especially for a presidential hopeful in the state of Michigan,″ Garrison said. ″Unions take the problem of substance abuse seriously and work jointly with management to curb drug abuse problems in the plants.″

Garrison added, ″Despite these problems and others, American workers remain among the best and most productive in the world.″

During a visit to the state Capitol, Robertson told reporters that he got his statistic ″probably two or three years ago″ from the news department of the Christian Broadcasting Network, which he founded.

Robertson said he didn’t have the source of the statistic ″right at the tips of my fingers,″ but that he could supply it later.

On Oct. 2, Bush ran afoul of the UAW when he made an offhand remark praising Soviet tank mechanics. He added that if they run out of work, ″send them to Detroit, because we could use that kind of ability.″

Bush later apologized for the remark, saying it was a joke that wasn’t funny and during an Oct. 14 visit to Detroit, accused Bieber of taking a ″cheap political shot″ at him.

On other points Tuesday, Robertson predicted that he’d beat Bush in Michigan, the first state to select national convention delegates, and said he was gaining strength across the nation.

″All across the nation, there are people by the hundreds of thousands who want to see America great again through moral strength. That’s what they want,″ he said, triggering cheers and applause and several shouts of ″amen.″

Because of the complicated system being used in Michigan, there is no independent measure of each candidate’s strength.

About 9,000 delegates to the Jan. 14 county conventions will choose about 1,600 delegates to the Jan. 29-30 state convention, where the national convention delegates will be selected.

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