Steelworkers president to Trump: Stop hurting workers’ morale!

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — All Chuck Jones was trying to say is that when Presidential-elect Donald Trump claimed to have saved 1,100 jobs in Indiana, it was a gross exaggeration that in the end crushed the spirits of many workers.

Chuck did not deserve the attack Trump levelled against him.

It’s one thing for a candidate to inflate stuff like their personal wealth, but when a president-elect tells the country he’s saved 1,100 jobs and it’s really only 800, he is hurting real human beings.

As president of the United Steelworkers (USW), I am proud of Chuck.

He is president of our Local Union 1999, which represents the 1,330 workers at the Carrier furnace plant in Indianapolis. He’s the guy who had to tell the workers the bad news after Trump mislead them. Only 800 jobs were saved, not 1,100. That includes 730 union jobs and 70 management positions.

When Trump announced 1,100 were jobs saved, he included 300 research and development employees who Carrier never intended to move to Mexico in the first place.

After Trump spoke, the members of USW Local 1999 thought that only a small number of blue-collar jobs would be lost. It turned out that nearly 600 workers will be out in the cold, almost half of the union members at the Carrier plant.

Everyone was thankful that 730 jobs had been rescued. But the 1,100 figure had created false hope. When it was dashed, workers were devastated. It was worse than if Trump had given them no hope at all.

This is important because the president-elect has made many promises to workers. If, as in the Carrier case, he uses sleight of hand to appear to fulfill these pledges but does not really do so, he will continue to hurt the morale of working people across the nation.

On the campaign trail, Trump promised he would bring back manufacturing jobs from China, Mexico, Japan and elsewhere. He said he’d impose a 35 percent tariff on companies that ship factories and jobs overseas and then send goods to U.S. to be sold. He promised tax incentives for manufacturers to build or expand factories in the United States. And he pledged to create 25 million jobs.

These are hope-builders for workers. They are pledges that must be kept.

Trump’s promises are particularly important to members of the USW, which is the largest manufacturing union in North America. We represent workers who forge steel and aluminum, build tires, mold glass, refine oil, make paper and cardboard, mine taconite and copper, and perform dozens of other highly skilled factory jobs crucial to the U.S. economy.

Trump is dead wrong.

Unfortunately for USW members, Chuck’s experience with Carrier sending jobs to Mexico is just one episode of a long-running tragedy.

Trump was dead wrong when he implied in a tweet that the USW has done nothing to try to save jobs from being sent abroad.

For decades, we have been battling the ill-effects of bad trade deals and have been seeking relief from currency manipulation by countries like China. The USW actually filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of NAFTA.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear our case.

What’s more, the USW international has filed or participated in more than 50 trade cases in just the past decade. Almost all of these were done in partnership with employer companies; most resulted in wins.

In a couple of instances, we had to file cases by ourselves with no help from the companies because their positions were compromised by having built plants in China. Such cases are ridiculously expensive, but we have to pursue them. We must do everything possible to protect our members’ jobs from being killed by trade violators.

Members are highly productive.

Some Wall Street and Washington wonks who have never got grease under their fingernails slam American factory workers as unproductive, overpaid and obsolete.

This just isn’t the case.

In fact, John P. Surma, the immediate past CEO of U.S. Steel, described his company’s unionized steelworkers as the most productive and efficient in the world.

What’s really going on is some foreign countries are manipulating their currency, subsidizing manufacturers in ways that violate international trade law and absolving corporations of their tax obligations, all of which results in exports that are artificially underpriced.

For example, China continues to ramp up steel and aluminum production even though the resulting excess capacity is roiling the entire world market. China is producing more steel and aluminum than the entire world needs, causing plummeting prices, bankruptcies, plant closures and massive layoffs worldwide, from the United States, Canada and Mexico to the United Kingdom and India.

There are more than 16,000 steelworkers out of work in the U.S. Eighteen aluminum smelters have closed since 2000, permanently destroying thousands of good, family-supporting jobs. In fact, there are only five aluminum smelters still in operation.

Why? Because China continues to break every rule it agreed to abide by when the United States granted it permanent normal trade relations status.

Also, clearly NAFTA has not worked for workers. It only encourage manufacturers like Carrier to move across the border to Mexico. Neither did the free trade agreement with South Korea do American workers any good.

If the president-elect would like to start a new trade regime that works for American workers and supports American manufacturing, we in the USW would like to work with him. But first he must bring workers and environmentalists to the table, not just corporate lobbyists.

The local union that Chuck Jones serves as president also represents workers at the Rexnord ball bearing plant, located about a mile and a half from Carrier. And like Carrier, it has announced plans to move to Mexico, where it can pay workers a total of $6 an hour in wages and benefits.

It a tweet, Trump called Rexnord out.

We hope that he can persuade Rexnord to keep its 300 good jobs in Indianapolis. But if he can’t, we in the USW believe he should fulfill his pledge to impose a 35 percent tariff on any ball bearings Rexnord sends back for sale here.

On the campaign trail, the president-elect promised, “The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer.”

Working people across this country who heard that and Trump’s promises about jobs and trade deal enforcement voted for him on the belief that he’d come through for them.

Those hopes must not become false hopes. Those promises must be kept.

Steelworkers President Leo Gerard heads one of the nation’s most politically active and largest industrial unions.


Leo Gerard
Leo Gerard

As Steelworkers President, Leo Gerard headed one of the nation’s most politically active and largest industrial unions, United Steelworkers. Gerard serves on the U.S. National Commission on Energy Policy. A co-founder of the BlueGreen Alliance, Gerard serves on the boards of the Campaign for America’s Future, the Economic Policy Institute and the Elderly Housing Development & Operations Corp., as well as serving as a member of the Labor Advisory Board at Wayne State University.