By Kay Tillow
United Steelworkers Local 1999 of Indianapolis has endorsed HR 676, national single payer health care legislation sponsored by Congressman John Conyers, reports local president Chuck Jones.
USW Local 1999 and President Jones have been through a stretch of difficult times battling for their 3,000 members who work in manufacturing in 12 different plants including Carrier Corporation.
In February the local voted unanimously to endorse HR 676, Expanded and Improved Medicare for All. They became the 629th union to take such action. “From our standpoint, HR 676 is the best option, it’s not that hard to come to that conclusion,” said Chuck Jones.
“Since we represent many different plants some of the issues are unique, but for all of the members these problems arise—cost and coverage. Some have high out of pocket maximums and some have high deductibles,” he continued.
“Health care is an issue in every contract negotiation. I’ve been around a long time. In the old days we had 100% coverage. The only thing we went into negotiations for in the contract was to improve the benefits. Not so now,” said Jones.
“I would like for Washington to see that workers can’t keep paying these high deductibles and co pays and premiums and still survive,” Jones said.
In 2016 Carrier and its parent company United Technologies announced that they would be moving the Indianapolis jobs to Mexico. The union went to work with a plan to fight back. They met with the company. “Over the next several months, my team and I worked tirelessly to keep Carrier in our city. We came up with $23 million in savings, but the Carrier brass said that wasn’t enough. They could save $65 million by moving to Mexico. We couldn’t match that unless we were willing to cut wages to $5/hour and cut all benefits,” says Jones.
“I’ve been in six plant closures. People can’t make their car payment, it is repossessed. Can’t make their house payment and the house is foreclosed and some give up completely and take their own lives,” Jones said, as he spoke of the corporate greed and the trade policies that have incentivized profitable companies to move good jobs out of the country.
The union organized rallies, marches, a corporate campaign to inform the public and pressure Carrier which was rolling in profit to back off its threat to throw the Indianapolis workers into the street.
That’s how President Trump came to know about the Carrier jobs. Trump and Vice President Pence, who hails from Indiana, offered Carrier $7 million in state incentives—handing taxpayer money to the corporation—in the time worn solution that shows the shallowness of their vision. Trump made nationwide news announcing he had saved 1100 jobs.
But for Chuck Jones, the numbers didn’t add up and he said so. Carrier was only keeping 800 jobs leaving USW Local 1999 with 550 members at Carrier and 300 more at Rexnord who would be out of work. Jones told reporters that Trump was not telling the truth. That prompted the ever-so-erratic Trump to take to twitter. On December 7, 2016, Trump tweeted: “Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!”
Trump followed an hour later with another tweet “If United Steelworkers 1999 was any good, they would have kept those jobs in Indiana. Spend more time working-less time talking. Reduce dues.”
Rather than admit his error, Trump blamed the workers and the union—big time. The union’s phone began ringing off the hook, and Jones received some threats saying we know where your children are. The union movement rallied round and flooded the local with messages of support and solidarity.
At an Indiana AFL-CIO press conference, Jones showed his sense of humor—“I was not offered the job as secretary of labor.” Then he spoke seriously.
“Because of corporate greed and unfair trade Rexnord has decided to move to Monterrey Mexico. We are doing everything we can to try to save the 300 jobs in that facility. And we’re not giving up the fight for 550 members here at Carrier and also trying to save the 700 jobs of our IBEW brothers and sisters who work at Carrier in Huntington, Indiana.
“All of these plant moves have nothing to do with profitability or quality. All it is– they want to enhance their shareholders profits, so what do they do, they take good people’s jobs away to move them to Mexico to exploit the Mexican workers by paying them $3 an hour.
“The average wage in Huntington is $17 or $18, the average wage at Carrier is about $23, at Rexnord it’s about $25. That’s a living wage and all of these facilities have benefits. Well, these companies come in and they strip your jobs away. They don’t give a rat’s a- - about what they’re doing to the people or the community. But it’s all about how much money they can make,” Jones concluded.
Brett Voorhies, President of the Indiana AFL-CIO, listed a number of other Indiana plants including ALCOA in Evansville and UAW jobs in Kokomo where workers are threatened by corporate moves. He said the AFL-CIO hopes to work with Senators Bernie Sanders and Joe Donnelly on progressive legislation designed to deal with this crisis.
The battle is far from over and the numbers matter.
Jones thanked All Unions for Single Payer for the work done to fight for health care. He encouraged union locals to endorse and work for HR 676.
As Trump pushes draconian cuts to health care in his American Health Care Act, President Chuck Jones proposes a different solution: “As far as working people go, single payer is the only salvation I can see that will resolve the health care problems.”