How offshoring went on under Trump, who promised to stop it

PERU, Indiana (Reuters) – Donald Trump won the U.S. presidency four years ago, in part, by promising Midwestern workers that he would stop companies like Schneider Electric SE. from move jobs out of the country.

It hasn’t stopped them.

Schneider’s plant, which manufactured electrical equipment near the center of this small town north of Indianapolis, closed in April, losing 306 jobs. Regina McDowell, who worked there for 42 years and said it was the only job she ever had other than babysitting as a teenager, said she went through a “bit of a depression” when it closed.

President Trump did not send any angry tweets on behalf of the factory workers nor did he respond to workers who contacted the White House for help, said McDowell, who remains secretary treasurer of the union that represented the workers of Schneider and many others. small factories in Peru. Some workers hoped Trump could speak, as he did on behalf of workers at a nearby Carrier Corp. factory during the 2016 election campaign.

There was also no public expression of support from Mike Pence, who as Governor of Indiana and Vice President-elect negotiated with Carrier to change their plans, including meeting with Carrier’s parent company CEO at Trump Tower. in New York in late November. 2016.

Despite the silence from Washington, McDowell said most of his colleagues enthusiastically supported Trump in the 2020 election. “They blamed the company, not him.”

Peru is just one example of how offshoring went on even under a president who pledged to stop it. While there is no comprehensive data to pinpoint all U.S. jobs lost to offshoring, the Department of Labor tracks cases where workers seek help under a federal law designed to help those harmed by the trade.

During the four years of the Trump administration, that program certified 2,095 petitions concerning 202,151 workers who lost their jobs and moved overseas. This is only slightly lower than the 2,170 petitions approved in the last four years of the Obama administration, which involved 209,735 workers.

“The challenge for the US remains the shortage of skilled workers and higher costs, which hasn’t changed,” said Patrick Van den Bossche, a partner at Kearney who tracks how companies are changing their manufacturing footprints.

Venancio Figueroa, a spokesman for Schneider, said closing the plant was a “difficult” decision, “but we felt it was necessary to remain competitive in the markets we serve.”

“We didn’t have any questions from the Trump administration “or from The government of the state of Indiana added. There have been investigations by the local government and the county, which have tried to reverse the decision, he said.

Schneider, a French conglomerate, countered the view that it was holding back its commitment to US manufacturing, noting that it has pledged to spend $ 40 million to upgrade plants in Kentucky, Iowa, Nebraska and Texas.

DAUGHTER OF RASPUTIN

The loss of the plant was a major blow to Peru, 11,500 inhabitants, which was once known as the winter home of several large circuses. Maria Rasputin, the daughter of the famous Russian monk Grigori Rasputin, was mauled by a bear in Peru while working for a circus there. She survived. The only remnants of that history are a large circus museum and a summer festival and circus parade.

Schneider was by far the largest industrial employer, although it has declined in recent years. The plant has made electrical panels and enclosures for switches which are used to shield electrical equipment.

The plant is now empty. Most of its former owner’s signage has been torn down, though small signs remain on the gates of a huge parking area, and a Schneider-branded electric car charging station sits next to the front door of the front office. factory.

The plant moved some production to Monterrey, Mexico, as well as to non-union businesses in South Carolina and Texas.

“The goal was to escape from the union, “says Eli Ireland, who has worked at the plant for 22 years. The company called this view” inaccurate. “

In fact, the union that represented the workers, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, kept a tally of the plants it represented and that closed during Trump’s tenure. They registered over 50, including Peru. Not all were cases in which the work was entrusted directly abroad. But many of them are, according to the union.

“We did this because the administration said we would restore jobs and stop the closure of plants, so we collected this data,” said Jonathan Battaglia, a union spokesman.

The good news for workers in Peru is that many of them found jobs quickly. By the time the plant closed, the pandemic had not yet hit the United States and employers were starving for workers. Ireland, for example, immediately went to work for a state agency that works with veterans. McDowell, 62, said she has decided to take a break but will soon be starting community college courses with the help of commercial adjustment funds. She hopes she can finally start her nonprofit to work with single parents on housing and other matters.

One aspect of the factory closure that McDowell is still struggling with is that it coincided with a bitter election and the COVID-19 pandemic. McDowell, who is black, said many of her friends, some of whom she has known for 30 years, stopped socializing with her as the campaign heated up and her anti-Trump views clashed with more widespread support among Colleagues.

“It’s weird. Sometimes I see them and we usually talk because we knew each other,” he said. “But these are people I used to do things with outside of work. I hope that when things calm down and Covid is over, we can get back to each other. “

Reporting by Timothy Aeppel; edited by Dan Burns and Edward Tobin