‘He made promises that he didn’t keep’: Laid-off factory workers feel betrayed by Trump
President Donald Trump’s path to becoming “the best jobs president that God ever created” was supposed to run straight through Indianapolis and the Carrier manufacturing plant that had for decades employed thousands of workers there.
Instead, more than a year after the then-president-elect stood before a crowd of cheering workers and trumpeted a deal to save their jobs — and months after the company’s name faded from the headlines and the president himself moved onto other talking points — more than 1,500 once-employed residents are now out of work, Indiana union officials say. More than 200 Carrier employees clocked out of their final shift at the plant just last week.
Story Continued Below
Trump’s campaign promises to punish companies that move factories overseas, to bring back manufacturing jobs and to revive the once-thriving Rust Belt sector became a constant refrain that helped him win the Midwest and ultimately the White House in the 2016 election. But it was also a pledge he’ll find difficult to keep.
Over the past year since he took office, the president who once pledged to slap tariffs on trading partners and crack down on China has so far softened or abandoned — at least for now — many of his hard-line stances on trade. Trump has moved instead to cut the corporate tax rate and launch a deregulatory push, heralding a wave of announcements from other companies planning to invest and create new U.S. jobs. The president plans to tout those achievements during a visit Thursday to Pennsylvania.
But those plans offer no comfort for the Steel Valley workers at companies like Carrier that had counted on him to keep their jobs in Indiana.
“The workers that I talk to feel betrayed, because he made promises that he didn’t keep,” said Robert James, the president of United Steelworkers Local 1999, which represents workers at firms including Carrier, its parent company United Technologies, Rexnord Corp. and Vertellus — all of which have laid off workers since late 2016.
At Carrier specifically, workers found themselves at the center of the spotlight when Trump brokered a one-off deal between the firm and the state of Indiana that his team used as an example of what he would do as president. “They’re not gonna leave this country, and the workers are gonna keep their jobs,” Trump, then president-elect, said that day in December 2016.
Despite the show at the Carrier plant, the company has eliminated more than 500 jobs since July. And union officials fear that the $7 million Carrier received in state incentives as part of the Trump deal to keep jobs is only going to be invested in automation — ultimately leading to a need for even fewer employees.
The administration has taken some steps throughout its first year in office to follow through on what it promised: Trump has, for example, started renegotiating trade deals with Canada, Mexico and South Korea. And he’s exploring ways of using trade law to limit imports of goods and materials like steel and aluminum.
In principle, the policies are aimed at curbing the offshoring of factory jobs by importing less and creating more goods in the U.S. But such policies can hurt the broader domestic economy while doing little to help formerly robust factory towns in Indiana and elsewhere, leading trade experts and economists say, due to factors like the advanced state of the U.S. economy, the intricacy of global supply chains and Americans’ interest in buying services rather than goods.
“Their solutions are utterly counterproductive,” said Bob Lawrence, a Harvard professor of international trade and investment and senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “When you say you’re going to bring jobs back and you’re going to put tariffs on to do that, you’re actually going to really damage the competitiveness of a lot of these companies who source in different locations.”
Much to Carrier workers’ and others’ dismay, Trump has also shifted away from his specific focus on cutting down offshoring and zeroed in instead on domestic policies like tax and regulatory overhauls. The new tax bill and particularly its lower repatriation rate has, already, contributed in part to major companies such as Apple announcing new investment in the United States. But it has also sparked concerns that firms will use their new windfall to bolster executive compensation or the size of their dividends, for example, rather than reinvest it.
The president’s trip Thursday to a factory just outside Pittsburgh will bring less of the old message he delivered to factory workers at Carrier and elsewhere about keeping jobs from moving overseas. He’ll focus instead on wider benefits of the tax overhaul, including announcements of wage increases and one-time bonuses tied to the corporate tax windfall.
“The President has made tremendous progress in reversing the years of policies that sent these jobs away,” White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said in a statement, emphasizing the administration’s steps to halt “the ballooning growth of regulations,” change the corporate tax code and give American workers a tax cut.
For Trump, the promises to revive the floundering manufacturing sector began early in his campaign and stretched beyond Carrier. In late November 2016, just days after his election, Trump tweeted that the chairman of Ford Motor Company had called him to say the auto maker would be keeping a plant in Kentucky rather than move it to Mexico — though it turned out Ford was never planning to move that facility.
A month later, Trump took credit for Japanese company SoftBank’s decision to invest $50 billion in the U.S., creating 50,000 new jobs, posting on Twitter that the company’s CEO “said he would never do this had we (Trump) not won the election!” But the firm had pledged to invest billions in the U.S. economy nearly a month before Trump’s victory.