On November 30, Donald Trump announced that he had cut his first deal as president-elect. He brought Carrier — the subject of one of his favorite talking points — to the bargaining table and convinced the furnace manufacturer to backtrack on its plans to move its entire Indianapolis plant to Mexico. In a press conference at the Indianapolis facility he announced that Carrier would be keeping 1,100 jobs in Indianapolis. Later it turned out that the number included 300 of those jobs were research and development jobs that were never slated to move, 70 of the jobs were management positions, and only 730 bargaining unit jobs were to be saved. When USW Local 1999 President Chuck Jones told the Washington Post that Trump had “lied his ass off,” when he announced the inflated the numbers, many pointed out that keeping 730 jobs is better than keeping none.
Saving 730 jobs is certainly a better outcome than seeing the entire plant disassembled and moved to Mexico. But what Trump and his defenders don’t understand is how his inflated numbers impacted the people who work at that facility.
Anyone who has ever been through a mass layoff knows exactly what happened inside that facility when Trump made his announcement. Every single one of the 1,400 employees in that facility went straight to the seniority list and put themselves into one of three groups. One large group of about 1,000 of the most senior workers were elated. They could be pretty confident that their jobs had been saved. Another group of about 200 of the least senior workers were pretty confident that the announcement meant nothing to them, their jobs were still going to Mexico. And the middle 200 had to wait to see whether or not they would still have a job by the end of 2017. Depending on how many retirements occurred, which jobs stuck around and how the bidding and bumping procedures in the contract were applied, they could find themselves on either side of the plant gate when the dust settled.
To Trump, inflating the numbers was about scoring political points. To the people who work at Carrier in Indianapolis, inflating the numbers disrupted their lives.
For months, Chuck Jones and the other leaders of USW Local 1999 worked tirelessly to push the plant closure into the national dialogue and pressure Carrier to keep jobs in Indianapolis. They lobbied politicians, organized rallies, gave hundreds of interviews, reached out to dealers that sell Carrier furnaces, and event traveled to the company’s shareholder meeting to lobby United Technologies Gregory Hayes to reverse his decision. But through that flurry of activity, perhaps the hardest job they had was convincing employees at the facility that the plant could be saved.
Workers were, understandably skeptical that Carrier would reverse its heartless position and keep the plant in Indianapolis. The union had offered a package that included $28 million per year in savings. Carrier flatly rebuffed the offer insisting that it could save $65 million per year by paying workers poverty wages in Mexico. To many it seemed like the idea of saving the plant was just a pipe dream.
On Thanksgiving, when Donald Trump tweeted that he had been in talks with Carrier about saving the plant, many workers saw their first real glimmer of hope. And on November 30th when Trump traveled to Indianapolis with an entourage of cameras and reporters to announce that the facility and 1,100 jobs were going to be saved workers ran to the seniority list and depending on where their name was on that list they felt relief, uncertainty, or despair.
As the cameras left and Donald Trump moved on to continue his “victory tour,” Chuck Jones pressed for details on the deal. By the time the president-elect made it back to Trump Tower, it was clear that only 730 jobs would be saved and hundreds of workers who thought they were keeping their jobs learned that they were actually being laid off.
Trump was gone, the cameras were gone, and Chuck Jones and the leaders of Local 1999 were left holding the bag. They had to tell hundreds of workers who were still celebrating the announcement that their facility had been saved that they were still going to lose their jobs. The members of USW Local 1999 had to deal with the consequences while Trump flew around the country holding victory rallies.
Being a local union leader is serious business. When you negotiate collective bargaining agreements and navigate layoffs and plant shutdowns you are taking people’s livelihoods in your hands. The stakes are high. With mass layoffs come violent economic shifts in communities, depression, substance abuse and even suicide. When you are dealing with such high stakes it is absolutely essential to be honest, direct and precise when communicating with the people whose lives are impacted. When you give bad information or inflate the numbers there are serious consequences.
Being President of the United States is also serious business. As President, Trump will be dealing not only with the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of workers, he’ll be dealing with questions of war and peace, climate change, criminal justice, and our nation’s nuclear arsenal. If he is going to lead he needs to be honest, clear, and precise. Otherwise we will all be left holding the bag.
Author’s disclosure: I work for the United Steelworkers Union and I have worked closely with Chuck Jones and Local 1999 on the campaign to save jobs at Carrier’s Indianapolis facility. The opinions expressed in this article are my own and not necessarily those of the United Steelworkers.