Decades ago a comic strip philosopher named Pogo opined, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
Soon-to-be-laid off Rexnord and Carrier employees meeting at the Steelworkers Union Hall on South Addison Street Sunday morning can relate as they know all too well their fellow Americans share at least some of the blame for industrial jobs headed to Mexico in pursuit of cheap labor, smaller price tags, higher corporate profits and bigger stock investment returns.
“Its all of us. We as consumers,” said Tim Mathis, a machinist with 12 years on the line at Rexnord which has made industrial bearings on Indianapolis’ westside for 50 years. “But as consumers we ought to be more conscious of what we’re doing. We’re saving a few dollars initially but down the road, I mean, is it our neighbor’s job? Is it our family’s job? Is it our job? Someone’s going to pay the price, and, unfortunately, it’s the working man that’s paying the price.”
Josh Shartzer has been at Rexnord for five years and expects to see rolling layoffs just after the first of the year now that the company has announced more than 300 jobs are headed for Mexico.
He was also a shareholder in his employer with about $8000 of Rexnord stock.
“I actually dumped it as part of my 401k plan. Actually I should have held on to it about another week because then it went up another three dollars,” said Shartzer. ”That’s how much I cared about it. I put money myself into the company but about three weeks after they announced the closing I went ahead and dumped my shares.
“People have an appetite for getting a good deal. They don’t want to spend a lot of money on items, so I understand that.”
Members of Local 1999 met to discuss severance pay bargaining strategy, extended benefits and retraining opportunities for both Rexnord and Carrier employees who are expected to lose their 1400 jobs in the next three years.
The union men and women also wonder if the new president some of them voted for will make good on his promise to save their life’s work.
“We’re gonna hold him to that,” said Mathis who remembered then-candidate Donald Trump came to Indiana to stump for primary votes last spring with a commitment to forcing Carrier to roll back its Mexico relocation. “We’re gonna draw as much media attention as we can cuz he is the one who made those comments. He said he’s gonna keep those jobs in America. He’s gonna bring jobs back to America. And I stand with him.”
Of more immediate concern to Shartzer is what happens to the value of his westside home, his prospects of finding another well paying job and what he’ll tell two daughters making their way through Ben Davis High School and dreaming of going to Butler University.
“The tax base that Wayne Township Schools is going to be losing as a result of these two plants closing is going to be devastating for the school system, so I worry about my kids’ education.”
Shartzer also fears about what will become of the social fabric surrounding the plants and its employees and the community, noting that Rexnord workers recently chipped in $1500 to help out a plant security guard most never knew who suffered a brain aneurysm.
“We’re very charitable. We’re very giving. We help out in the community.”
For the time being, Mathis has his sights aimed squarely another community to blame for his job’s demise.
“This is my second plant closing,” he said. “We feel betrayed by our elected officials, Wall Street, the banks, it is clearly a slap in the face and a kick in the ass. The fat cats are still making money, they’re making big money. Rexnord’s a prime example. Carrier’s another prime example. The companies are making money. They’re making big money. The working man is taking a beating. We’re sick of it. We’ve had it. We want our voices to be heard.”