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‘There’s not a hope alive for us’: A factory Trump targeted begins its move to Mexico

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 3/30/2017 Danielle Paquette
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The list came up Tuesday morning, near the assembly line. Twenty-three names. Twenty-three dates. And two words everyone dreaded: TENTATIVE LAYOFFS.

Rexnord, an industrial supplier in Indianapolis, was starting the two-month process of closing the factory and moving nearly 300 jobs to Monterrey, Mexico.

Brian Reed, 45, knew this would happen. But he didn’t expect it to twist his gut. He has worked a quarter century here, and his name topped the white piece of paper. Human resources had typed out his seniority number, too (12/07/1992).

The company announced it was ending its six-decade run in America’s heartland about three weeks before President Trump won the election. The move, Rexnord told the local union in a letter, would allow it to “o perate in a more cost-effective manner.”

In other words, Reed’s livelihood was just another casualty of old-school manufacturing’s steady decline, a dwindling driven by trade, automation and consumer demand. Roughly 5 million such jobs have vanished since 2000, disproportionately rocking the Midwest.

Then on one surreal December day, Trump thrust a plant that would have otherwise shuttered quietly into the national spotlight. “Rexnord of Indiana is moving to Mexico and rather viciously firing all of its 300 workers,” he tweeted. “This is happening all over our country. No more!”

Since taking office, Trump has used social media as an economic policy tool, singling out firms that outsource jobs and threatening them with steep import tariffs. But presidential criticism couldn’t stop Rexnord from packing up. Asian companies dominated the bearings market, and Chuck Jones, president of the Rexnord workers’ union, figured the company wanted to tap cheaper labor to keep profits up.

Another factory, however, one about a mile from Rexnord, changed direction under the president's pressure.

Carrier, a heating and cooling manufacturer that had planned last year to shuttle about 1,100 jobs to Mexico, became a political symbol during the campaign and then Trump’s first political victory as president-elect. After pledging to save all the jobs at an Indianapolis rally, Trump called Carrier’s top brass and worked out a deal: 800 would stay, in exchange for $7 million in state tax credits. (Peanuts, Reed thought, compared to the Carrier parent company’s $6.7 billion in federal contracts — perhaps the real leverage.)

Days later, Greg Hayes, chief executive of United Technologies, which owns Carrier, said on television that the company planned to further automate the Indianapolis plant , which would eventually — again — reduce employment there.

After reaching the agreement, however, Trump billed it as a win. He gave a speech at Carrier, praising the company and the state of Indiana.

Down the road, Rexnord employees wondered if he’d bail them out, too.

In the weeks following the Carrier deal, Reed prayed Trump would step in and save the day. He put off looking for work. Taking a new job before the plant shutdown would endanger his severance package, anyway.

Then four months passed.

“There’s not a hope alive for us,” Reed said Tuesday. “We’re done.”

Since February, Reed, who assembles ball bearings, has shared the floor with workers from Mexico. Rexnord sent them up to learn his trade.

Reed knew they’d make the equivalent of $3 an hour south of the border — a bargain, compared to his $25 hourly pay. Some of his co-workers had agreed to train them for an extra $4 an hour. Traitors, he thought.

The road ahead, he said, is intimidating, but not necessarily bleak. He will receive $2,000, plus a week of salary for every year he spent at the company. He has health insurance for at least six months.

He’s also been learning how to build all kinds of parts with a computer, courtesy of a local job training program. He plans to take some community college classes, since the tuition is covered by a state economic development fund.

It’ll be uncomfortable for a while: learning to code, typing programs onto screens. “ I’m not an office type person,” he said. “I need to be moving.”

He no longer expects the president will fix his problem.

More on Wonkblog:

'He lied his a-- off': Carrier union leader on Trump deal

Donald Trump insulted a union leader on Twitter. Then the phone started to ring.

The real reason Ford abandoned its plant in Mexico has little to do with Trump

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