WASHINGTON ― After having no luck with President Donald Trump, Indiana factory workers on Thursday pleaded with their governor to stop their companies from shipping their jobs to Mexico.
Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) met with leaders from the Indianapolis chapter of the United Steelworkers union, which represents workers at Carrier and Rexnord, two profitable companies that Trump has harshly criticized for closing Indianapolis factories.
The Rexnord layoffs are a symbol of the failure of Trump’s force of will alone to stop companies from offshoring jobs. In the face of Trump’s criticism, Carrier changed its plans, but Rexnord didn’t. Soon, the bearings manufacturer will lay off about 300 workers.
Local 1999 President Chuck Jones said he asked Holcomb if there was anything the governor could offer, such as new tax incentives, to convince the companies not to proceed with the layoffs.
“They said that there wasn’t anything they could do on that, so that was not an option,” Jones said.
A Holcomb spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Last year, Trump and former Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, now the vice president, gave Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies, $7 million worth of tax breaks as part of a deal to keep Carrier’s Indianapolis furnace factory running. The agreement saved 800 jobs at the plant, though roughly 500 workers will still be let go.
United Technologies may have agreed to keep the plant partly because the firm earns billions from contracts with the Defense Department; Rexnord doesn’t.
United Technologies CEO Greg Hayes and other corporate bigwigs met with the president at the White House on Thursday.
“Did you bring any more of those jobs back?” Trump said to Hayes, drawing laughter from the room, according to a reporter who was present.
“But one thing he did,” Trump continued. “You know, I said, you were given so much credit for that. And I heard two days ago that you’re selling way more Carrier air conditioning. People are buying Carrier because of what you did ― bringing the jobs back to Indiana. ... Thank you.”
In addition to the 500 Carrier layoffs this year, United Technologies plans to fire 700 workers from a different subsidiary in Indiana.
Trump has always said he would renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement and other trade deals that make it profitable for companies to lay off American workers in favor of cheaper foreign labor. But he also said he would be able to save jobs by picking up a phone, using dealmaking skills he learned from his real estate career. However outlandish that may have seemed, Trump in December asked for a list of companies that have announced plans to pack up for Mexico.
“I can call them myself,” Trump said to his chief of staff, in front of a reporter from Time magazine. “Five minutes apiece. They won’t be leaving. O.K.?”
It’s not clear if Trump has spoken on the phone with Rexnord CEO Todd Adams. So far, the president’s only comment on the company came in a November tweet that called the firm vicious, which Jones took as a promise to stop the layoffs.
Rexnord announced plans to close its Indianapolis bearings factory last fall and finalized a plant shutdown agreement with the union in December. The company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
Union members at Carrier and Rexnord have been protesting their companies’ Mexico plans since last year. Carrier workers posted a video of their management informing them of the layoffs. The video received widespread attention and probably helped Carrier get on Trump’s radar.
Brian Reed, who has worked for Rexnord for 24 years, said the governor seemed sincere in the meeting with union leaders on Thursday. Short of saving their jobs, Reed said workers’ representatives told Holcomb the state could send more officials to the plant to help those losing their jobs apply for Trade Adjustment Assistance, a special type of unemployment insurance for workers losing their jobs due to foreign trade. Reed said he planned to use the trade assistance benefits to enroll in machinist training.
In the meantime, Rexnord workers are training their replacements, at least until layoffs begin sometime next month. Reed likened the experience to being a passenger on the Titanic.
“It’s miserable,” he said.