One of the most compelling viral videos of the past year featured the angry reaction by workers at a Carrier plant in Indianapolis to an announcement that the the company planned to lay off 1,400 employees and move production to Mexico.
I urged readers to watch the video “[i]f you want to get some idea of why so many Americans are supporting Donald Trump and/or Bernie Sanders…” Seems I was on to something.
Now with a combination of promises (tax breaks) and threats (nice federal contracts you’ve got, it would be a shame if anything happened to them), President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence, still governor of Indiana, have persuaded Carrier’s parent company United Technologies to keep about 800 production jobs in Indianapolis.
I’m genuinely happy for those workers and their families. They have every right to feel grateful for what Trump and Pence did, even if Sarah Palin, of all people, denounced the deal as “crony capitalism.” But contrary to the headlines and the expert spin that Trump is putting on this, it’s not an entirely feel-good story.
Lost in the hype is this troubling detail:
The company will keep about 800 jobs at the Indianapolis plant, but will still move 600 jobs from Indianapolis to Mexico. Another 700 jobs are being moved to Mexico from a separate factory in Huntington, Indiana, which will be closed.
In sum, about 800 American jobs are being saved, but another 1,300 are disappearing.
As Carrier acknowledged in a letter to employees, “it is not good news for everyone.”
So while I’m pleased for the workers who have kept their jobs, I’m equally sad for the larger number who have been kicked to the curb. They deserve at least as much attention from the media.
Now that Trump has made a big public show of preventing the outsourcing of a few hundred jobs in one exceptional instance, many of his working-class supporters may expect him to be able to prevent outsourcing everywhere. But because not every factory is in a state governed by his future vice president or owned by a corporation greatly dependent on federal contracts, he may not be even partially successful the next time. When he fails, or doesn’t try very hard, the backlash could be stormy. The fact that he has outsourced so many of his own products, and purchased Chinese-made instead of American-made steel for his construction projects, may then become the focus of attention it has long deserved to be.
And keep an eye on the next round of contract negotiations between the union representing the Carrier workers and the company. The union previously agreed to a two-tier wage system, with newer workers earning about half of of what longer-term workers take home. If the company tries to win further wage and benefit concessions, as it well may, look for another backlash. Will Trump go to bat for the workers then?