Steelworkers demand Trump restore aid to workers hurt by cheap imports
Carrier Rally to Save Our Jobs | USW Local 1999

INDIANAPOLIS — Chuck Jones knows how workers can be helped – or not – by federal aid to those who lose their jobs to subsidized foreign imports. Mick Mulvaney — Republican Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) — may not.

Jones, the retired president of Steelworkers Local 1999 in Indianapolis, saw the federal program, called Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), make workers at the Carrier furnace plant he represented, and several hundred more at the Rexnord ball bearing plant just down the street, eligible for replacement money for lost wages and for retraining. The workers must apply for it.

You know, that Carrier plant – the one where then-President Elect Donald Trump, with great fanfare, boasted he saved 1,100 jobs from moving to Mexico. Except he didn’t, and Jones called him on it.

But two months before Trump made his much-ballyhooed trip to Carrier, bringing along his VP-elect, Indiana GOP Gov. Mike Pence, all its workers – even those scheduled to keep their jobs – had been approved for TAA. It’s the $738 million nationwide program to retrain workers who lose their jobs to unfair trade. Same thing at Rexnord, Steelworkers legislative representative Ray Houseman says.

Some of his workers at Carrier used the TAA money, Jones said in a telephone interview. Others couldn’t. Mulvaney, GOP President Donald Trump’s budget chief, says only 27 percent of those who use TAA funds nationwide get jobs they train for, and those jobs pay less than jobs other trade-hurt workers get. Trump and Mulvaney want to cut TAA to $604 million.

“There’s a certain amount of aid they’re entitled to,” Jones retorts, talking of the TAA funding, which lasts up to a year. “That’s good for some people – the younger people at the plant who want to get into another field, like pharmaceuticals,” now a huge industry in Indianapolis.

But it’s “not good for the people who are left behind,” he adds. “Those are the guys who are 40 to 55 years old, they haven’t been to school in 20 years.” Many have only high school diplomas to begin with.

They need that TAA money while they retrain for other jobs.

“They don’t have a lot of experience that might be turned around for something else,” Jones adds. Some might be able to retrain themselves as electricians, but even so, “they don’t have the education to get the high-tech jobs.”

The laid-off workers know only Carrier or Rexnord, as did 215 fan-coil production workers Carrier let go from Jan. 11-25 this year. The corporate conglomerate owners of both plants closed up shop and moved production to Monterrey, Mexico, where workers earn $3 an hour with no benefits – and no Steelworkers union fighting for them.

The companies used NAFTA to move, and the workers became eligible for TAA due to cheap Mexican imports as a result, says Roy Houseman, the USW’s legislative rep who campaigns for the program and the workers. The Local 1999 members in Indianapolis joined other Steelworkers, in steel, aluminum and paper plants all over the Midwest, who also qualified for TAA aid. Other workers in a wide range of industries all over the country also seek it.

Workers, who used to make $23-$25 an hour, with good benefits, at Carrier, and similar amounts at Rexnord thanks to good contracts Local 1999 negotiated, got left behind. “Now they get maybe $9-$10 an hour in a fast-food place or $13-$15 an hour in a warehouse,” Jones says. Some draw down their 401(k)s first, but those last only six months or so, he adds.

Mulvaney and Trump use the “failure” of TAA to justify changing the program to focus on younger workers and apprenticeships, and to cut its money, too. The GOP has long had TAA, begun after labor lobbied the Kennedy administration when the U.S. started negotiating international “free trade” pacts, in its crosshairs.

“How would you define a loser? My guess is, a loser would be a program that doesn’t work,” Mulvaney, a former far right-wing South Carolina congressman, told reporters when he unveiled Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget, which starts Oct. 1.

“Let’s give you an example of that….In workforce, a classic example of how we try to set up this budget: The winners are the apprenticeship programs. The losers are things like Trade Adjustment Assistance, OK? We reform TAA. Why? Because it doesn’t seem to work.

“In fact, the data we have seems to suggest that folks who go through that program actually end up in lower-paying jobs than folks who don’t go through the program, OK? So there’s a program that screams out for either less spending or reform, or both.”

“The flipside of that are these apprenticeship programs where we actually have some hard data that says people who go through the apprenticeship programs actually come out with more pay and better jobs on the backend,” Mulvaney says. He wants to shift an unspecified amount of TAA money into apprenticeship training, after the overall cut.

The catch is it’s not just the Carrier and Rexnord workers who get hurt, Jones says. It’s other workers and families who depend on them – everyone from the mom-and-pop grocery store and the barber shop which lose customers, to the city of Indianapolis, which loses tax revenue and must then slash spending on schools, firefighters and other services.

“And sooner or later, families can’t make their mortgage payments, and they’re foreclosed on.”

Houseman sees that scenario, too, spreading nationwide as a result of the Trump-Mulvaney-GOP TAA cuts. He’s determined to halt their scheme in its tracks.

“It’s disconcerting the administration is de-funding a program that helps workers who lose their jobs to unfair foreign trade,” he says. “We’ll fight like hell to keep it, and Congress is our backstop on that.”



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.