The closure of another plant in leaving some workers in other parts of Indiana feeling abandoned again, says Workers’ Project Executive Director Tom Lewandowski
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KIM BROWN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Kim Brown in Baltimore. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that $7 million in tax incentives was offered to United Technologies, the parent company of Carrier Corporation, to keep some of its operations in the State of Indiana, thereby preventing some 1,000 jobs from leaving the country. President-elect Donald Trump will be in Indiana today taking a victory lap, as it were, and taking credit for this deal. But what kind of a deal is it, really? Well, today we’re joined with Tom Lewandowski. He’s the Executive Director of The Workers’ Project and he is talking to us today from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Tom, thank you so much for being here. TOM LEWANDOWSKI: Thank you for having me. KIM BROWN: So, Tom, there’s really a lot to unpack out of this Carrier deal that President-elect Trump is really patting himself on the back for organizing or orchestrating, or at least approving in some way. But it seems that some of the so-called saving of the 1,000 jobs in Indiana is only part of the story because according to the Wall Street Journal piece, Carrier still plans to close a plant in Huntington, Indiana, which makes electronic controls and still intends to ship some 1,300 jobs to Mexico. So, is this really the type of deal that Donald Trump should be congratulating himself over? TOM LEWANDOWSKI: Well, I know that there are a lot of folks in Huntington, Indiana, that aren’t particularly in a congratulatory mood right now, because they’re still losing their jobs and they’re feeling like they were left out of this. You know, here they are in a rural area and, “Abandoned again,” is one of the comments I heard from down there. KIM BROWN: So, Carrier makes air conditioning units and they have some operations in the State of Indiana and they announced in February of this year, that they planned to close their factories, close their plants and take these jobs to Mexico. So, now Donald Trump, and I would assume, Vice President-elect and Governor of Indiana Mike Pence, helped to orchestrate this deal to keep some 1,000 jobs in the State. But the terms of the deal have not yet been explicitly broadcast or published. What are you hearing on the ground there? TOM LEWANDOWSKI: Well, actually we’re hearing nothing about what the terms are yet, and you know, that’s always one of the problems with a deal, is that usually the photo op, the press conference is the payoff for the politician and the details of the deal are often where the devil resides. And you know, are there… you know, we don’t know if this includes wage cuts for the workers, benefit cuts, what increase in taxes will there be for people statewide? You know, until you see the details of this, because every economic development initiative has some kind of community benefits statement, either explicit or implicit, and until you see what’s there, it’s quite a… you know, we don’t know. KIM BROWN: In today’s Washington Post, Senator Bernie Sanders, the Independent Senator from Vermont and also former Democratic candidate for President, he wrote about how United Technologies, the parent company of Carrier Corporation, has basically taken Donald Trump and saying that this deal sets a bad precedent in a number of ways. One of which being that, number one, 1,300 people in Indiana are still going to lose their jobs. These jobs are going to be outsourced. But also that corporations going forward in negotiating with this Administration, specifically, are going to, for lack of a better term, you know, be holding a gun to the head of Donald Trump saying, “We will take our operations out of the country if we don’t get these tax incentives.” Do we expect to see going forward this is how businesses are going to engage with the Trump Administration? TOM LEWANDOWSKI: Well, this is, in fact, how businesses have engaged with political entities for decades now and a lot of this happened in towns and communities around the country for years. And it’s this deal between elected officials and corporations in which the workers and taxpayers are cut out. You know, so this has been going on for some time and it doesn’t seem to matter if they’re Republicans or Democrats. It seems that both political parties are willing to play the game. And you know, they say, “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” Well, the game’s been played for a long time and a lot of workers, a lot of taxpayers have been losing. You know, a lot of economic development is based on game theory and we have seen that it’s nearly impossible for elected officials to avoid playing the game. They feel that they’ve got no choice but to do that and then they have the photo op that they did something. And it’s part of the reason people are so cynical about the economy because they know better. We’ve done the research. We look into different economic development schemes and we see what happened, you know, years out. What do the check stubs say? What jobs were really created? You know, once the lights dim from this press conference, it’s going to be, you know, who’s going to be following up to see what was really done? KIM BROWN: And, Tom, you really raise a good point and, you know, you being part of The Workers’ Project there in Indiana, I’m sure you’ve seen this same type of scenario play out over and over again. So, give us an idea, give us a snapshot of what it has been like for the manufacturing sector in Indiana over the past 20 or 30 years, under Republican and Democratic Presidents, as you mentioned. I mean, the Rust Belt has been tremendously impacted by the outsourcing of jobs overseas. So, tell us what it’s been like for the average worker in Indiana over the past generation. TOM LEWANDOWSKI: Well, it’s been devastating. Northeast Indiana, we consider ourselves the buckle of the Rust Belt. And we used to be, in Northeast Indiana, our congressional district had the highest percentage of manufacturing jobs of any congressional district in the country. Well, we have been hemorrhaging jobs. We’ve gone from 1980 being above the median income to being well below the median income in Northeast Indiana. It’s been devastating. We have, the United Way has developed a metric in some States called Assets Limited Income Constrained Employed – ALICE. And, in Allen County, principal county of Fort Wayne for instance, 39% of families don’t make enough money to pay their bills, man — and that doesn’t include debt. You know, like student debt or, you know, all kinds of debt. So, when you look at what’s happening, the desperation in so many people’s lives, it’s been devastating to see the work and workers and worker rights have all been devalued. KIM BROWN: United Technologies receives $5.6 billion in Federal contracts. They do some defence services for the Federal government, but beyond that, I mean, their biggest incentive to play ball with the incoming Trump Administration might be more in the ability of them having a hand in crafting or guiding any upcoming regulatory reform or tax policies. So, it seems as if these Carrier workers may have just been a small concession to the Trump Administration for this publicity stunt, as some have called it, just so they can perhaps be able to help write laws that will impact their industry, specifically, and to keep this defence money coming in. TOM LEWANDOWSKI: Well, yeah, if the social contract is now only between elected officials and corporations, you know, taxpayers are there just to foot the bill and similarly with workers. You know, until workers have voice and power in economic development, until we actually define what economic development is, because that’s another point — everything is done for economic development? What the heck do we mean? You know, are we measuring this by the velocity of capital? Or are we measuring it by the way people live their lives? You know, there’s a metric that is absent from all discussions in the political economy — and it’s an important term that I think we have to use again and again, is this is a political economy. And do workers, do taxpayers have citizenship in this political economy? Or is this only corporations and elected officials? I worked in Eastern Europe in the ’90s and I saw what a political economy had looked like, and I don’t care if it’s the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, or the Communist Party, if you have a political economy, you end up with a cynical economy. KIM BROWN: And, Tom, lastly, you know, Indiana is a Right-to-Work State and we were talking just now about workers’ rights and what type of voice do the workers have in their workplace, if at all? So, tell us what the Right-to-Work, Indiana designating itself in this way, what impact has that had on workers in your State? TOM LEWANDOWSKI: Well, you know, it’s hard to measure. I know that the impact that the proponents of Right-to-Work said it would have, that it would create this economic miracle, has done just the opposite. So, in terms of how regular folks are doing, they’re doing less well and the real question is, you know, it’s not so much about… You know, the Right-to-Work is important but it’s more symbolic of a generalized attack on all workers. And this is a problem that I think Republicans are going to have, if Donald Trump is the guy who won because a lot of workers, the majority of workers, including union workers in the Midwest and the Rust Belt voted for him, well, how’s he going to be able to deliver? I think they have a problem in, you know, how are they going to deliver other than occasional press conferences? They have made some people at Carrier in Indianapolis happy, but there are other people who are going to be saying, “Isn’t this just more of the same that we’ve seen for 20, 30, 40 years — the same kind of economic development, the same kind of game where politicians are there for the photo op and we’re left to pay the bill?” KIM BROWN: We’ve been speaking with the Executive Director of The Workers’ Project, Tom Lewandowski. He’s been joining us today from Fort Wayne, Indiana. Tom, we appreciate your time today, thank you. TOM LEWANDOWSKI: Thank you. KIM BROWN: And thanks for watching The Real News Network.