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‘We’re terribly disappointed and hugely frustrated’: Union chiefs say Trump made their lives worse

"There's been no action that has done anything to protect and defend American jobs."

Credit: (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Credit: (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

In April last year, President Trump stood alongside steelworkers and promised that his Commerce Department would open an investigation into whether imported steel posed a national security risk. The results of that investigation would likely have resulted in tariffs for countries like China.

Nearly 10 months later, the Commerce Department has finally wrapped its probe and sent its findings to President Trump. While the agency won’t disclose its findings, it says Trump has 90 days to “decide on any potential action.”

It may be too little too late for domestic steel workers who feel as though they were political pawns in Trump’s presidency.

“We’re terribly disappointed and hugely frustrated,” Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers union, told CNN. “There’s been no action that has done anything to protect and defend American jobs. …In some cases we’re worse off now than we were then.”

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Gerard was alongside Trump in April when the president announced his intentions to investigate the use of foreign steel in the United States. At the time, Trump called it “a historic day for American steel and, most importantly, for American steelworkers.”

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had initially set the investigation’s internal deadline for June 2017, but the G20 summit and bilateral talks with China in July allowed them to kick the can down the road a few weeks. In August, senior executives from 25 U.S. steel and steel-related companies sent a letter to Trump asking for immediate import restrictions.

“Your leadership in finding a solution to the crisis facing the steel industry is badly needed now. Only you can authorize actions that can solve this crisis and we are asking for your immediate assistance,” they wrote.

Imported steel held about a 27 percent market share last year, according to Reuters. As a result, American steel mills declined and thousands of steelworkers lost their jobs.

Criticism of Trump’s failure to live up to promises he made to American workers has been building for some time.

When then-candidate Trump found out in February of 2016 that Carrier would be closing its Indianapolis plant and sending 2,100 jobs to Mexico, it became a cornerstone of his presidential campaign. He railed against Carrier and companies like it for outsourcing jobs, threatening to penalize them with heavy taxes, should they continue the practice.

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After winning the election, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence announced with much fanfare that they had reached a deal with Carrier to keep around 1,000 jobs at the company’s Indianapolis plant. In return, the company received $7 million in state tax breaks to stay in Indiana.

Carrier proceeded to lay off 340 workers in July and another 250 in early January regardless.

The layoffs weren’t isolated to Carrier either: Rexnord Corp., just down the road from Carrier, closed in November, laying off 300 workers represented by the same union.

Adding insult to injury, Carrier’s parent company, United Technologies Corp., also forged ahead with its plans to close the Huntington, Indiana plant, affecting around 700 workers, in July.

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“We took him serious because he did seem to be an entrepreneur,” Renee Elliott, an ex-Carrier employee, told The New Yorker recently. “He knew this offshoring shit was gonna go down, and ‘I’m not gonna stand for it’ is the way he made it sound. Hillary never said a word to us or about us. Obama never flew Air Force One to our facility, like he did to one in Elkhart, Indiana, when he was campaigning. I thought, ‘This man is not gonna be anybody’s puppet.’”

In December 2016, shortly after Trump first announced the Carrier deal, then-president of United Steelworkers 1999 Chuck Jones claimed that Trump had “lied his ass off” to the American public by claiming he saved the jobs of 1,100 workers. In response, Trump attacked Jones on Twitter.

“Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!” he wrote. “If United Steelworkers 1999 was any good, they would have kept those jobs in Indiana. Spend more time working-less time talking.”

In the past, Trump has openly confessed his preference for right-to-work laws, which prohibit workplace labor contracts that force workers to join a union or pay a fee. The laws are a popular union-busting technique as they hobble unions by cutting off major sources of funding.