WASHINGTON ― Donald Trump vowed during his presidential campaign to save the 1,400 jobs at the Carrier factory in Indiana, and on Thanksgiving Day the president-elect even tweeted that he’s “working hard” to keep his promise.
Not everyone at the factory thinks he can do it.
“I think they know it’s mostly bullshit, but there’s a lot of people here talking about it,” Carrier production associate T.J. Bray told HuffPost in an interview.
Trump repeatedly bashed Carrier in campaign speeches over the company’s plans to close its Indianapolis furnace factory. The company wants to shift production to Mexico, where labor costs are much lower. Trump said that as president he would save the plant by threatening to slap a 35 percent tariff on the company’s imports.
Trump’s strategy may have shifted ― The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that officials with Trump’s presidential transition team have been discussing possible tax breaks with Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies Corp.
A spokesperson for Carrier did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. The company tweeted on Thanksgiving that it had been talking with the incoming administration but had nothing to announce.
“The only thing we know is what he put on Twitter and what Carrier put on Twitter,” Bray said. “I think everyone pretty much knows that it’s gonna close.”
Carrier announced its plans to outsource jobs to Mexico earlier this year despite the company’s profitability. The layoffs had been planned to hit in waves starting next year and finishing in 2019.
Bray, 32, has been one of the most vocal Carrier workers, even traveling to Washington in June to plead with members of Congress to do something. He’s worked for the company for 14 years and said he thought his job would probably be eliminated next year. Carrier has offered to help pay for education or retraining for its laid-off workers, so Bray said he’s planning to go to school and study communications.
Paul Roell, who has worked at Carrier for 17 years, said he felt encouraged by Trump’s Thanksgiving tweet and also the fact that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has said Trump should keep his Carrier promise by threatening to withhold government contracts from United Technologies.
“Now that he’s even getting involved it’s becoming a bipartisan issue,” Roell told HuffPost. “That’s kinda gonna give us more leverage.”
Chuck Jones, president of the United Steelworkers Local 1999, which represents workers at the Carrier plant, said he didn’t see how tax breaks would be enough to entice the company to keep its furnace plant in the U.S. He said he thought it would make more sense for Trump to threaten to withhold government contracts. He said the union hasn’t been contacted by anyone from the incoming Trump administration.
“If Trump’s got any type of leverage we’re guessing it would be, ‘If you move these jobs out of this country then we’re gonna make it hard or we’re gonna take away any chance you got moving forward on government contracts.’”
The Local 1999 also represents workers at a Rexnord bearings factory similarly slated to close next year. Trump hasn’t mentioned Rexnord.
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One reason Jones is skeptical is that he saw how Trump falsely claimed he’d convinced the Ford Motor Co. to keep a factory in Kentucky, even though Ford said it had never planned to close the factory.
“I see where he took the credit for Ford,” Jones said. “I’m not for sure what he actually did for Ford since they weren’t moving anyway.”
Jones said some Carrier workers do think Trump can fulfill his promise.
“Some of ‘em have got a lot of faith in president-elect Trump, think that he can do it because he said he would,” he said. “Other ones think it’s a PR move and he’s full of shit and he’s just trying to appease people.”
Bray said the mood around the factory is somber.
“It’s like you’re sitting around waiting for your own funeral,” he said. “You know that the end is coming and there’s probably nothing you’re gonna do to stop it.”
This post has been updated with comments from Paul Roell.