John Feltner was working his shift as a machinist at the Rexnord ball bearings factory in Indianapolis Wednesday night when word spread that President-elect Donald Trump had sent mean tweets about the union’s president.
Feltner said workers were upset that Chuck Jones, president of the United Steelworkers Local 1999, had gotten onto Trump’s bad side, since many believe the president-elect is their only hope of not getting fired next year.
“There was a lot of dissent in the plant that politics are replacing the task at hand as far as saving jobs,” Feltner said. “Everybody was in the plant going, ‘What the hell’s he doing?’”
Feltner and several other Rexnord workers told The Huffington Post they were stunned last week when Carrier Corporation, which owns a furnace plant about a mile from their bearings factory, announced that Trump had convinced the company not to close the plant and send all its jobs ― roughly 1,400 ― to Mexico.
The announcement gave Rexnord workers hope for their own jobs, which the company has also been planning to shift to Mexico next year. A key reason for their hope is that Carrier and Rexnord workers are both represented by Jones and the Local 1999. (The union had been shut out of the negotiations.)
Trump posted a tweet about Rexnord’s “vicious” layoffs on Friday, though the company hasn’t been talking to the press and appears to be proceeding with its Mexico plans.
Jones has praised Trump, but he’s also criticized the president-elect for exaggerating the number of jobs saved by his intervention with Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies. Jones said earlier this week that Trump “lied his ass off” by claiming the deal, which included state tax breaks for the company, preserved 1,100 Carrier positions.
The real number is actually 800, meaning at least 500 Carrier workers will still be losing their jobs. Despite what Trump himself has said, a Trump spokesman confirmed the numbers to HuffPost last week.
On Wednesday night, shortly after Jones explained the jobs numbers on CNN, Trump tweeted that Jones has “done a terrible job representing workers.” The tweet also blamed manufacturing job losses on unions, even though Trump spent the entire campaign blaming them on bad trade deals. Trump didn’t say Jones was wrong.
Though he wished Trump hadn’t gotten mad at Jones, Feltner said Jones was still right about the numbers. So did other Rexnord workers.
“I voted for Trump, but Trump’s the one who said he was gonna keep those jobs here in the country,” Tim Mathis said, noting that more people are still getting laid off than having their jobs saved.
“I stand with Chuck. Chuck’s exactly right,” said Mathis, who has worked as a machinist at Rexnord for 12 years. “President-elect Trump needs to use a little more caution as far as attacking people on Twitter.”
The stakes are high. Mathis said supervisors from Rexnord’s Mexico facility have been touring the Indianapolis plant and that the company wants its workers to train their replacements in return for their severance packages. The factory is slated to close next year.
“That’s a kick in the pants,” Mathis said. “Tensions are starting to get high in the shop.”
Don Zering, who is the president of Local 1999 workers at Rexnord, said it’s important for people following the story to know that while the union is thrilled Trump saved 800 jobs, it’s not happy that 300 people are getting laid off from Rexnord, 500 from Carrier, and 700 from another United Technologies subsidiary in Huntington, Indiana.
“We’re talking about families losing their livelihood,” Zering said.
Jones, for his part, said he’s been getting threatening phone calls from Trump supporters since Tuesday, and that the messages “kicked up” a bit after Trump tweeted. But he doesn’t regret standing up to Trump.
“If I had to do it all over again, maybe I would use little better choice of words ― but probably not,” he said.