Susan Haines and Sharon Vanacker knew something was wrong when their CTS Corporation factory in Elkhart, Indiana shut down production one afternoon in June of last year.
That “never happens, unless it’s a holiday or something,” Vanacker said. “Even on weekends they don’t shut down all production.”
All of the sensor and actuator plant’s employees were asked to attend a town hall style meeting with a company vice president. It was there that they found out that everyone at the factory would be losing their jobs beginning in January 2017. The work will instead be moved to factories in Mexico, China, and Taiwan.
Employees were blindsided by the announcement. “We had no clue, none at all,” Haines said.
The company knew the news would be difficult to swallow. “They asked us, everyone, to leave the building after the meeting,” Vanacker said. Production was kept idled for the rest of the weekend. “They locked the gates so no one could get in, which they haven’t done in years.” It seemed they were worried about angry employees who had all just learned they were losing their jobs.
They were right. “It was a lot of shock, I think a lot of sadness,” Haines said, describing the mood after the announcement. “Then everybody got really mad.”
Employees didn’t let their jobs go without a bit of a fight. Elkhart Mayor Tim Neese tried and failed to offer the company incentives to stay. And once President Donald Trump started running for president and promising to keep American jobs from being moved overseas, union officials at the UAW and IAM that represent the factory employees reached out to him to see if he would intervene.
So far, nothing has come of their overtures. “We’ve had… many people reach out to him,” Haines said of the president, “and we haven’t heard anything.”
“Now everybody’s just accepted it,” she said.
They aren’t optimistic. “I don’t see any Hail Marys in our future,” Vanacker said.
If nothing changes soon, by the middle of 2018, 230 people who worked for CTS in Elkhart will have lost their jobs and watched them move to other countries.
Jobs are still leaving the country
This is the very kind of job loss Trump repeatedly promised—on the campaign trail and from the Oval Office—would come to a full stop under his watch. “We’re just shipping company after company after company is leaving the country and leaving jobs behind. And I’m going to get it stopped,” he promised in early 2016.
“Believe me. Nobody’s leaving,” he said later in the year.
Not only would he stop the losses, he claimed, but he pledged to act immediately. “We are going to stop it day one,” he said. “A Trump administration will stop the jobs from leaving America… Promise.”
But so far, that promise is going unfulfilled. Haines and Vanacker aren’t the only ones waiting to see if their president will intervene to save their jobs.
Since Trump was sworn in on January 20, at least 11,934 American jobs have either been moved abroad or are in the process of leaving the country, according to Department of Labor data analyzed by ThinkProgress.
The 11,934 figure is gleaned from the DOL’s Trade Adjustment Assistance program and offers the best, most accurate baseline, though the actual number is almost certainly much higher. There is no accurate, complete dataset that tracks how many Americans are losing their jobs because they get shifted overseas. “Nobody has really been able to count the number of workers that have been affected by offshoring,” said Dan Marschall, director of the Working for America Institute at the AFL-CIO.
The lost jobs span geography and industry. Workers have been laid off from Maine to Florida, from Arizona to Wisconsin. While plenty are in industrial manufacturing, a range of other industries are represented: medicine, technology, even finance.
To get Trade Adjustment Assistance, workers who suspect their job losses are caused by trade in some way must send a petition to the DOL. Then the department investigates and makes a determination as to whether they should be certified.
“There are lots and lots of workers who would qualify for TAA but don’t know about it or don’t have the wherewithal and resources to go through the paperwork,” said Thea Lee, deputy chief of staff at the AFL-CIO. Unions can help facilitate the process, but less than 7 percent of the private sector workforce is in a union. Meanwhile, employers themselves may be averse to advertising it, knowing that if their employees get certified it becomes public knowledge that they’re outsourcing jobs.
Out of all jobs affected by trade — those that are moved overseas as well as those eliminated thanks to competition with exports, outsourcing, and other factors — just a small share end up in TAA filings. “A minority of a minority of a minority of the people who are adversely affected apply and get approved for TAA,” said Howard Rosen, a former Peterson Institute visiting fellow.
His research, now a decade old, found that the approximately 718,000 workers who were certified in the TAA program between 2002 and 2007 was dwarfed by other measures of how many workers are broadly impacted by trade, such as a finding of 6.45 million jobs lost to import competition between 1979 and 1999.
By comparison, Trump’s deal with Carrier to save about 800 jobs is less than 7 percent of the nearly 12,000 jobs jobs lost or leaving since he took the oath of office.
Decades of work disappears
Mike Julian started at Commercial Intertech 22 years ago, before it was bought by Parker Hannifin Corporation, a motion and control technology manufacturer, in 2000. The original company was started by a family in Youngstown, Ohio in the 1920s. Lore had it that the CEO used to walk around at Christmastime and shake people’s hands, wishing them a happy holiday.
Julian got a job there in 1994, when there were still four divisions in the company that made industrial equipment parts: a stamping division, a cylinder division, a foundry, and a hydraulic pump division, where he worked. The new job offered him $12–13 an hour, a big step up from the $7 or $8 he had made in his previous job. “Better paying job, had health benefits, paid vacations, all that stuff,” he said.
Those same qualities attracted Bob Gaia to the company 23 years ago. He left the job he got right out of high school working in a warehouse for a job at Commercial Intertech that doubled his pay and actually offered benefits.
But over the years, Parker Hannifin sold off or closed the other three divisions. “This was something they did piecemeal,” Mike Thompson, who worked at Parker Hannifin for 27 years, said. The workers argue the company never invested adequately in what remained. Instead, work kept getting farmed out to plants in Mexico and Asia.
By the fall of 2015, the hydraulic pump factory was the last one standing. That’s when the plant’s union committee was called into a meeting with corporate higher ups. “We had a bad feeling as soon as we saw that,” said Zechariah Mathews, who was on the committee, “because they usually don’t ever come to Youngstown.”
The Parker Hannifin executives had a message for employees: the hydraulic pump factory they worked in would be closing and most of the production would move to China. Some, like Julian, felt that the writing had long been on the wall. Others were completely taken aback. “When they told us, it was like a total shock,” remembered David Hight, who had worked there for 24 years.
Morale quickly plummeted. “Everybody was obviously not happy and it was a bad work environment,” Mathews said. To add insult to injury, executives from China at one point come through to tour the plant. “Obviously that didn’t rub anybody the right way.”
Hight thought he could retire from Parker Hannifin. “I thought we’d live through the storm,” he added. “I was 54, my plan was to get to 59.”
“Parker came along,” Julian said, “And basically gave my job to somebody else, somebody in China. I’m not happy about it because that’s my livelihood.”
Julian had planned to stay on at Parker Hannifin through retirement. “I’m expecting to work 26 more years at least,” he said. “I had no plans of going nowhere else.” Now he’s back to square one. “I’m 45 years old,” he said. “Now I got to get another job.”
He’s currently going back to school to get an associate’s degree, making a bet that by the time he’s out things have improved. “I’m just hoping when I’m done that could help me get a job that pays closer to what I was making before,” he said, which was about $20 an hour. “There’s no guarantee of that.”
In the meantime, he and his wife have had to rethink their budget. “I don’t have spending money,” he said. “We don’t get to go out and go shopping and do all that stuff… I eat at home all the time, a lot of ramen noodles.”
“They took everything I worked for. All that time, I’ll never get that back,” he said. “What I’ve worked for for the last 22 years has been taken from me through no fault of my own.”
For the 137 people who lost their jobs at Parker Hannifin as of April of this year, getting back on their feet might be tough. “Our average age in our plant…was something like 38,” Thompson said. “It’s going to be hard for them to get jobs back in the Youngstown area. The jobs aren’t there that they once were.”
“We all knew when we left we weren’t going to find a job that was going to pay us what we were making on our union scale,” Gaia agreed. “We’re going to take a pay cut.” He’s now trying to find another job, but every one he’s interviewed for offers much less pay even though the responsibilities are greater. “They expect you to work harder,” he said, yet “the pay is severely less.” One wanted him to do what would have been two separate jobs at Parker for $7 less an hour.
Mathews had the same experience. Now he’s done with the industry. “There was never anything that I did not enjoy in manufacturing,” he said. But “I wanted nothing to do with manufacturing after this whole stint, I was done.” He now has a job as a quality control specialist for a commercial HVAC company.
The plant closing has also taken a personal toll. “We were like a family, honestly. All the people I worked with, we’d go golfing together, meet out places, have fantasy football together,” Julian said. “I feel like they basically broke up my family.”
A presidential candidate promises hope
The plant’s closing played out at the same time as the presidential campaign, one in which issues like trade and jobs were hotly debated. The plant was about evenly split in supporting either Trump or Democratic rival Hillary Clinton. In the past many had typically voted Democratic, thanks in part to their involvement with the union. But “everybody realized they were losing their jobs, Trump was talking the talk, and everybody wanted to see that type of change,” Mathews said.
Even so, few were hopeful Trump would actually help them. The closing had been announced so long ago, and plans were so far along, there was little optimism that a deal could be struck. “Everyone in the workplace already knew that it was done for Parker,” Mathews said. He voted for Trump and still supports him. “He obviously is doing what he can to be president of the United States and bring jobs back.”
Gaia is cautiously hopeful that Trump can improve things for other people. “They all promise change, just like the last guy promised change,” he said. “I guess show me. Show me you can do it.”
For his part, Julian never really had any hope that politicians could save their jobs. “The politicians are blind to what’s going on,” he said. “They just don’t care.”
He’s not particularly loyal to any one party; he points out proudly that he has voted for Ross Perot, Al Gore, John Kerry, George W. Bush, John McCain, and Barack Obama. In the most recent election, he voted for Trump. “Believe me, Trump’s got his flaws. But the guy has run a business, kept things in budget,” he explained. “I’m hoping he can get some stuff done, I’m hoping things will change.”
He’s not disappointed that Trump didn’t manage to save his job. “So many of us are losing our jobs, he can’t know everything. He can’t know that 150 people in Youngstown, Ohio are losing their jobs,” Julian said of Trump.
In March, Trump assured an audience assembled at the White House that jobs have stopped leaking out of the country. “They’re not leaving our country anymore folks,” he said. “They’re not leaving, they’re staying and they’re building right here.”
After the layoff, starting from square one
Susan Haines started at CTS in 1996 as a machine operator and worked her way up to production coordinator over the years. Sharon Vanacker began at CTS two years earlier than Haines and has had a number of different positions, moving up the ranks of seniority. Their tenure, coupled with advancement, have earned them better shifts, more predictable hours, and decent pay.
They had planned to stick with CTS until they were ready to stop working altogether. Both women are in their fifties. “We’re not that far” from retirement, Vanacker said. “Another 10 or 12 years and we’d have been retiring.”
They’ll have to give that all up as soon as they leave CTS. “We’ll have to work,” Haines said. “We’re in our fifties. You can’t retire for another ten plus years.”
Haines doesn’t know what she’ll do in the next chapter of her life. “A whole new career at 55,” she said, sounding a bit baffled.
Vanacker thinks she may try to get trained in computer programs for her next job. “I want to try computers or something more secure where I’m not going to lose my job because they move my job to another country,” she said.
But what they do know is that they can’t expect the same pay and benefits that they had worked so long and hard to secure at CTS over two decades. “You start over,” Haines said. Any new job will require her to work night and weekend shifts with little control over scheduling. “We’re used to a lifestyle, and now we have to change it because obviously we’re not going to be able to make the kind of money we do now.”
Even retirement plans, once they can be put into place, are changing. “We won’t be retiring like we thought we’d be retiring anymore,” Vanacker said.
In the meantime, both women have suffered some indignities. Employees from the Mexico plant came to the factory in Elkhart and Haines, Vanacker, and the other employees had to show them how to make the parts they produce. “It didn’t go so well,” Haines said. “It’s nothing against the people themselves, it’s the fact that they’re going to be doing our jobs.”
And until the plant is fully shut down next year, the company has been hiring temporary workers to get things done. “We went through a few hundred temps [so far] I’d have to guess,” Vanacker said. It’s even come to the point that both of their supervisors are now temp workers.
And they still don’t even know exactly when they’ll be asked to leave. Haines was supposed to depart last month but now it could be the end of the year. Vanacker thinks she’ll be at the factory until next year. “Nobody really knows because it keeps getting longer and longer,” she said.
The pending layoffs have now become a central focus of their lives. “Everything we do is, ‘When am I going to lose my job?’” Haines said.