WASHINGTON ― After helping strike a deal to keep the Carrier Corporation from shutting down its furnace plant in Indianapolis one year ago on Wednesday, Donald Trump said the days of companies shipping jobs overseas had ended.
“Companies are not going to leave the United States anymore without consequences,” Trump, who was then president-elect, said last year at the Carrier plant, echoing a key campaign promise. “Not going to happen.”
It has continued to happen.
Though it seemed that Trump’s populist, anti-trade campaign and his surprising election victory heralded the beginning of a new protectionist era, companies have continued to lay off workers for trade-related reasons at roughly the same pace as in the previous five years.
More than 93,000 jobs have been eliminated due to foreign competition since Trump’s election, according to Labor Department data analyzed by Good Jobs Nation, a union-backed labor advocacy group. The previous five years saw an average of 87,500 jobs lost due to trade.
One reason Carrier kept its plant open instead of shifting all the production to Mexico was that its parent company, United Technologies, is a major government contractor and didn’t want to jeopardize that revenue stream. At the very least, it seemed, the Carrier deal showed Trump could use the presidency to bully companies into hiring American workers. But big federal contractors contributed 11 percent of the layoffs due to trade over the past year, compared to only 4 percent over the preceding five years.
“It’s extraordinarily frustrating,” Sen. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from Indiana who has sought common ground with Trump on manufacturing, told HuffPost.
Donnelly and other Rust Belt Democrats have proposed legislation that would put companies that offshore jobs at a disadvantage in the federal procurement process. Donnelly spoke with the president about the proposal during several visits to the White House, including in September.
“I actually tried to get it included in the tax plan, and the president said, ‘I’m very supportive of that,’” Donnelly said. “But, nothing.”
Republicans have claimed their tax reform legislation would spur hiring in the U.S. by cutting corporate taxes and creating incentives for new capital investment. Companies themselves, however, have generally not indicated they’d use tax savings to hire more workers. Steven Rosenthal, an expert with the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, has warned that international tax changes in the Republican plan could actually encourage firms to shift production overseas.
Though Trump didn’t rip up the North American Free Trade Agreement on the first day of his presidency, as he’d promised to do, a renegotiation of the deal is underway.
The Carrier deal itself prevented the plant from closing, but it didn’t stop the company from laying off about 500 of the 1,400 workers at the factory. The job losses were certified by the Labor Department as caused by foreign trade, making the workers eligible for Trade Adjustment Assistance, which is a special type of unemployment benefit.
Good Jobs Nation used the public Labor Department data on certified TAA cases to come up with its tally of trade-related layoffs over the years. Not every such job loss represents a job being shipped directly to another country; some result from cheaper imports, for example.
Quinton Franklin told HuffPost he’d worked for Carrier for 10 years before losing his job in July. After several months of unemployment, during which he got a more affordable home and car, Franklin said he got a new job in October overseeing cleaning services at a hospital.
Franklin said he was glad Trump intervened to stop Carrier from relocating the furnace plant to Mexico and that it was “surreal” when the president-elect actually visited the facility. Franklin didn’t support Trump’s campaign at the time, though, and is now basically just disappointed.
“I feel like the whole campaign was just a lie,” he said. “He based his whole campaign off of saving jobs and stuff being made in America.”