Ahead of the 2020 election, Donald Trump and administration officials have claimed the era of offshoring American jobs and factories is “over”, but even through the pandemic US corporations have continued to lay off employees and send their work abroad.
Petitions for trade adjustment assistance (TAA) – a government scheme designed to soften the blow from jobs sent overseas – shows that about 37,000 workers had their positions sent overseas between 15 March and 31 July 2020, , a nearly identical rate to the same timeframe in 2019.
Bed, Bath & Beyond shut down a call center in Layton, Utah, last month, displacing 286 workers and sending the work abroad to the Philippines through a contractor.
“They actually tricked people into training these other people. The way they worded it was they’re bringing the contractor to help out with the overflow. I was never told in any form I was training people to take my job,” said a laid-off call center employee who requested to remain anonymous due to a confidentiality agreement.
“For them to make the change with the layoffs, when they did, was the biggest slap in the face for employees. There was no need to do it in the middle of a pandemic.”
Bed, Bath & Beyond did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Workers were told in an email the layoffs were part of a restructuring plan.
Since Trump’s inauguration on 20 January 2017 to 31 July 2020, over 308,000 workers have been certified for trade adjustment assistance benefits. Trump campaigned on promises to stop offshoring, and workers at companies that have shut down or scaled back operations, including AT&T, Carrier in Indiana, Siemens in Iowa and Nabisco in Illinois, have criticized the lack of support for workers once he took office.
As part of restructuring ahead of bankruptcy, Brooks Brothers decided to shed their “Made In America” commitment and shut down three clothing factories in the US in July 2020. The company will rely on production abroad, displacing up to 700 workers in the US.
“It’s tough for everybody. We didn’t expect the company to close it. People have been here for 30 to 40 years,” said Pedro Lopez, president of Unite Here local 187 who worked at the Brooks Brothers’ Southwick factory in Haverhill, Massachusetts, for over 10 years. He hasn’t found other employment out of fear of making his 92-year-old mother, who he cares for, sick from coronavirus.
In a recent policy paper, Owen Herrnstadt, the IAM’s chief of staff to the international president and director of trade and globalization, disputed claims from the Trump administration that current trade policies were bringing back jobs to the US, citing the continued influx of TAA petitions, the lack of progress in reversing job losses abroad, and promised jobs from corporations such as Foxconn in Wisconsin that never panned out.
“We cannot simply turn around offshoring by doing what the current administration has done: tweeting out tariffs and issuing executive orders ‘encouraging’ companies to use domestic sourcing,” Herrnstadt argued.
A report published in August 2020 by the Economic Policy Institute noted that between 2016 to 2018, the latest year of available data, nearly 1,800 manufacturing factories in the US had disappeared. The report notes coronavirus has further hit manufacturing with the loss of 740,000 jobs this year, and trade deficits that drive offshoring, particularly with China and Mexico, have continued to increase under Trump.
Among the TAA petitions filed during the pandemic are 403 workers in Buffalo, New York, at Panasonic who will be displaced at the end of September 2020. The petition says Tesla and other companies are switching to purchase solar products from China and existing production will be sent overseas to Malaysia.
On 15 September, 500 workers at the Asarco copper processing plant in Hayden, Arizona, will be displaced as the mining company plans to ship concentrate that was to be processed in Arizona to Mexico. Some 110 workers at an Amarillo, Texas-based Asarco refinery are also being impacted. The displacement comes shortly after Asarco workers ended a nine-month strike in July 2020 after a NLRB ruling in their favor over new contract negotiations.
Winoa USA shut down its Redford, Virginia-based steel abrasive plant in June 2020, sending the production equipment abroad to Canada and France. Thirty-eight workers were affected by the shudown.
“It was very sudden. We didn’t have a lot of notice. Obviously the market had been up and down prior to that due to Covid, but we were all optimistic up until the decision was made to close the doors to the plant,” said a worker at the plant who requested to remain anonymous due to a confidentiality agreement. “I’m currently still unemployed, searching for work. Hopefully I can change that in the near future. It’s put me in a tough position.”
Brooks Brothers and Winoa USA did not respond to multiple requests for comment.