Work­ers at en­dan­gered In­di­ana plant feel for­got­ten by Trump

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

HUNT­ING­TON, In­di­ana: A full park­ing lot and 50-hour work­weeks be­lie the anx­i­ety at the United Tech­nolo­gies-owned fac­tory out­side a small north­east­ern In­di­ana city, where Mike Har­mon and co-work­ers won­der whether they aren’t just stock­pil­ing parts for when the com­pany sends their 700 jobs to Mex­ico.

Their sit­u­a­tion has gained scant at­ten­tion com­pared to the sis­ter Carrier Corp fac­tory two hours away in In­di­anapo­lis, which be­came a ral­ly­ing cause against plant clo­sures dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial cam­paign and where Pres­i­dent-elect Donald Trump in­ter­vened to stem some - not all - job losses.

“I don’t think they look at us, be­ing from a small town ...” said Har­mon, a 44-year-old Hunt­ing­ton na­tive who’s worked at the fac­tory for seven years. “The whole time dur­ing the cam­paign he talked In­di­anapo­lis, In­di­anapo­lis, In­di­anapo­lis, never heard one word about Hunt­ing­ton.”

It’s a per­ceived slight that stings in a county where 72 per­cent voted for Trump and man­u­fac­tur­ing makes up about one­fifth of all jobs. On Dec 1, Trump and Vice Pres­i­dent-elect/In­di­ana Gov. Mike Pence touted Trump’s role in Carrier de­cid­ing to re­verse about 800 planned job cuts at the In­di­anapo­lis plant - a move that also pro­vides United Tech­nolo­gies $7 mil­lion in state in­cen­tives. Nei­ther they nor com­pany CEO Greg Hayes men­tioned the Hunt­ing­ton plant or dis­cussed the some 500 Carrier jobs still be­ing lost.

Em­ploy­ees at the United Tech­nolo­gies Elec­tronic Con­trols fac­tory in Hunt­ing­ton say they’ve been work­ing mostly seven days a week since late Oc­to­ber, mak­ing con­trol pan­els for the fur­nace, air con­di­tion­ing and re­frig­er­a­tion in­dus­tries. Lead­ers of their union be­lieve the com­pany is do­ing so ahead of the fac­tory’s lay­offs ex­pected to start in April and con­tinue into 2018.

But Con­necti­cut-based United Tech­nolo­gies said in a state­ment that its plans haven’t changed. It de­clined a re­quest to in­ter­view a com­pany ex­ec­u­tive. Hayes has cited a be­lief that the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion will cut cor­po­rate taxes and stem busi­ness reg­u­la­tions.

Na­tion­wide, the US La­bor Depart­ment has is­sued over 1,600 ap­provals for lay­offs or plant clos­ings since 2015 as a re­sult of shift­ing pro­duc­tion over­seas or com­pe­ti­tion from im­ports, ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Al­liance of Man­u­fac­tur­ing. In­di­ana has one of the na­tion’s most man­u­fac­tur­ing-de­pen­dent economies even though it has lost 144,000 such jobs, or 22 per­cent, since 2000.

Trump has warned he’ll im­pose a 35 per­cent tar­iff on goods im­ported by com­pa­nies that out­source pro­duc­tion, and a week ago on Twit­ter ripped plans by Mil­wau­kee­based Rexnord to close a 300-worker In­di­anapo­lis bear­ings fac­tory in an­other pro­duc­tion shift to Mex­ico.

But it isn’t clear whether Trump in­tends to keep per­son­ally in­ter­ven­ing in cor­po­rate de­ci­sions. Three days af­ter the Carrier fac­tory trip, Pence told ABC’s “This Week” that Trump will “make those de­ci­sions on a dayby-day ba­sis in the course of the tran­si­tion, in the course of the ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

Cut­ting deals

Govern­ment lead­ers have long been in­volved in cut­ting deals with cor­po­ra­tions, ac­cord­ing to Scott Paul, pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Al­liance for Man­u­fac­tur­ing.

“It is a fact of life in the real world. Gover­nors en­gage in eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, usu­ally they are try­ing to at­tract jobs,” he said. “Coun­tries do the same thing ev­ery day.”

Some Hunt­ing­ton work­ers are up­set over the tax in­cen­tives for a com­pany that also owns Pratt & Whit­ney - a big sup­plier of fighter jet en­gines that re­lies in part on US mil­i­tary con­tracts.

Bob Breedlove, a 60-year-old who’s worked at the plant for a decade, voted for Trump and still thinks he’s the right per­son, even though he’s “not crazy about this deal.” “My tax dol­lars are go­ing to save them, but they aren’t go­ing to help save my job,” Breedlove said. “I know how much money this com­pany makes, they don’t need our help to stay in busi­ness and make a profit.”

Man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs are a valu­able part of Hunt­ing­ton County’s econ­omy, with av­er­age an­nual pay top­ping $57,000 in 2015, ac­cord­ing to the In­di­ana Busi­ness Re­search Cen­ter. That’s nearly 50 per­cent more than the county’s over­all av­er­age earn­ings. The United Tech­nolo­gies fac­tory, which draws em­ploy­ees from sev­eral nearby com­mu­ni­ties, is seen as sta­ble em­ploy­ment. Tucked along a by­pass of the 17,000per­son city and sur­rounded by miles of farm­land, it re­cently seemed to be the busiest of the 10 or so busi­nesses in an in­dus­trial park.

Rouie Hawkins met her hus­band, Ford, at the fac­tory. They’re both still there but have a Plan B: He’s mak­ing plans to start a used­car busi­ness and she’s weigh­ing whether to take ad­van­tage of the union’s sev­er­ance agree­ment for re­im­burse­ment to­ward up to four years of col­lege.

“I’ll be 50 soon and I worry about even if I go back to school, then I’ll be in my mid 50s when I fin­ish a de­gree and who’s go­ing to want to hire me,” Hawkins said.

Har­mon, whose wife also works at the fac­tory, said it’s his third fac­tory clos­ing. He’s wor­ried he won’t find any­thing close to the $17 an hour United Tech­nolo­gies pro­vides. The cou­ple has two chil­dren in col­lege and two in high school and is do­ing what he called “ma­jor coupon­ing” and cut­ting back on non-ne­ces­si­ties. “I’ve told my fam­ily that ‘You’ve got Direc­tTV right now. Next year at this time, you may have antenna TV,’” Har­mon said. “Our main thing right now is bank­ing money so that we can try to sur­vive when we are let go.”

At a down­town diner, Lori Guy ex­plained that her vote for Trump al­ready is pay­ing off, even if it didn’t help her town. “I’m sure if there was a way, he would have saved more jobs,” said Guy, who works at an apart­ment com­plex where many United Tech­nolo­gies staffers live.

Blake Hancock, his mother and his aunt all work at the plant. While he’s grate­ful for the jobs that are stay­ing in In­di­ana, the 25year-old be­lieves Trump was try­ing to buff up his im­age, not pro­tect work­ers.

— AP

HUNT­ING­TON: Blake Hancock, of Mar­ion, Ind., poses out­side his union’s meet­ing hall in Hunt­ing­ton, In­di­aba. Hancock works at the United Tech­nolo­gies Elec­tronic Con­trols fac­tory in Hunt­ing­ton along with his mother and his aunt.

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