Trump Saved Jobs at Carrier, but More Midwest Jobs Are in Jeopardy


[| November 30, 2016 |The New York Times]

In tiny Sellersburg, Ind., just across the border from Kentucky, Manitowoc Foodservice is in the final stages of closing a factory that makes beverage dispensers and ice machines and is laying off 84 workers.


The company is moving production to Mexico.

Just 100 miles away, President-elect Donald J. Trump will appear on Thursday with workers at Carrier’s Indianapolis plant to boast of his success in saving at least 1,000 jobs from moving to Mexico.

The truth across the Rust Belt is that there are more Manitowoc Foodservices than Carriers. The layoffs and closing in Sellersburg follow similar shutdowns by Manitowoc in Ohio and Wisconsin.

“I’ll give Trump his due, but I hope he and the American people and Congress don’t forget about all these other jobs going to Mexico,” said Chuck Jones, the president of Local 1999 of the United Steelworkers in Indianapolis, which represents Carrier. “Down the pike, a lot more are going to be moving out.”

Indeed, Rexnord, the ball bearing factory in Indianapolis where Mr. Jones went to work straight out of high school nearly 40 years ago, said in October it would be moving to Mexico. It is just a mile from the Carrier plant.

The mayor of Indianapolis, Joe Hogsett, and Senator Joe Donnelly, both Democrats, tried to exert Trumplike pressure to force Rexnord to rethink its plans, but so far the company has not shown any sign it will change course.

“On a personal level at Carrier, it is huge,” said Jerry N. Conover, director of the Indiana Business Research Center at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University. “But by itself, the disappearance or retention of 1,000 jobs is a small slice of the total economy in Indiana.”

“I think there will be continued downward pressure on employment in factories because of trends toward automation especially and moving to lower-cost areas for production,” he added.


Carrier, in its official statement on the deal on Wednesday, said that it thought the agreement it negotiated with Mr. Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence “benefits our workers, the state of Indiana and our company.” But it said that incentives provided by Indiana, where Mr. Pence is governor, “were an important consideration.” It added that “the forces of globalization will continue to require solutions for the long-term competitiveness of the U.S. and American workers.”

Those 1,000 Carrier jobs saved represent just 0.2 percent of total manufacturing employment in the state. And despite a rebound since the aftermath of the Great Recession, at just over half a million positions, factory employment in Indiana this year is still down by more than 20 percent since 2000.

The good news is that Indiana has been doing well economically, with an unemployment rate below the national average and steady gains in employment like food service, retail and logistics.

But those service jobs pay well below the $20 to $25 an hour that veteran Carrier employees — with only a high school diploma — can earn building furnaces and fan coils in Indianapolis. The typical manufacturing worker in the state earns $59,000 a year, about $20,000 a year more than the typical service job.

And for less credentialed workers, that margin is the difference between having a shot at a middle-class life, including owning a home and sending children to college, and having to struggle to make ends meet.

“These are truly irreplaceable jobs,” said Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, an advocacy group, and a native of Rensselaer, Ind. “A manufacturing job is one of the only ladders to fulfilling the American dream for a worker without a college degree.”

“A manufacturing worker who loses their job at Carrier will be resigned to facing a lower standard of living and leaner retirement years,” Mr. Paul added. “Carrier is special because it happened at the right time and the right place and it gained a high profile. But obviously, Donald Trump and Mike Pence can’t intervene every time a plant closes.”

The economic fortunes for this group have been shrinking for years, which is a major reason the story of Mr. Trump and Carrier has resonated so deeply.

In Indiana, in particular, as in other so-called Rust Belt states, there are a lot of people who are less educated: Just 16.5 percent of the state’s residents ages 25 to 64 have a bachelor’s degree, half the rate for the country over all. And while about 30 percent have an associate degree or some college, the bulk of Indiana residents, 44 percent, have only a high school diploma — or less.

Nor has manufacturing remained the sole domain of whites. It provides a crucial source of higher-paying jobs for minorities.

In the popular imagination, the Indianapolis factory where 1,400 Carrier workers build furnaces and fan coils looks like a scene out of “The Deer Hunter” or “Norma Rae.” Blue-collar guys walking through the plant gate, lunch pail in hand, or white women barely getting by after years on the line.

But the reality at the Carrier plant that Mr. Trump will visit on Thursday is very different. About half the workers are African-American, making it a much more diverse workplace than many white-collar settings.

Women account for a substantial portion of the work force as well, but the wages are anything but subsistence: over $20 an hour plus benefits for workers with just a high school diploma. That is an almost unheard-of level of pay for Indiana workers with that level of education in other sectors like food service and retail or even many health care jobs.

Carol Bigbee, 59, who has worked at Carrier for over 13 years, earns $22 an hour. Her daughter has a bachelor’s degree and works in a medical lab, but earns one-third less.

“You have to be really blessed to find a job that pays that kind of money,” she said.

In southern Indiana, where the Manitowoc Foodservice factory will close next year, good-paying blue-collar jobs are just as rare.

But Rich Sheffer, vice president for investor relations and treasurer at the company, said it had little choice but to relocate to Mexico.

“This company has 20 percent excess manufacturing capacity,” he said. A few of the jobs are being transferred to Covington, Tenn., he said, but the Sellersburg plant “would have required a massive investment in automation. And we have to deal with profit margins that are trailing the industry.”

Mr. Sheffer said his company’s situation was different from that of Carrier, which has profitable operations in Indiana but could make more money in Mexico.

“Our motivation is completely different, but,” he added, “we haven’t been contacted by anybody in the Trump administration.”


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