Tariffs Create Tension For Factory Workers Who Supported Trump | NPROn October 18, 2019 by Raul Dinwiddie
Chris Pratt: You’re probably not going to find many people out there in our plant that are going to say, “No, I didn’t vote for President Trump.” Michelle Spurgeon: I think he’s honestly, honestly, honestly trying to do good for these United States. Philip Bennett: Trump made a lot of good promises. He’s done a lot of them, but nowhere in there did it say, “Hey, I’m going to raise the tariffs on this and then affect my job.” Alex Collins: I kind of question myself a little bit on, on that decision that I made on voting for him. David Greene: This is Poplar Bluff, It’s a community of 17,000 people in southeastern Missouri. In 2016, nearly 80 percent of voters here supported Donald Trump, including many of the workers at one of the biggest businesses in town — Mid Continent Nail. Mid Cont, as it’s known here, is the largest nail manufacturer in the United States. But lately, it’s been in a tough spot. Donald Trump: Steel is steel. You don’t have steel, you don’t have a country. Our country, on trade, has been ripped off by virtually every country in the world. We’ll be imposing tariffs on steel imports and tariffs on aluminum imports, and you’re gonna see a lot of good things happen. You’re gonna see expansions. David: Mid Cont used to get most of its steel from Mexico, and so Trump’s 25 percent tariff hit them hard. Their only hope now is an exemption from that tariff — one they are not sure is going to come. We sat down with some of Mid Cont’s employees to ask them how they reconcile their support for the president with their uncertain future. Paige Spencer: Two dogs, white picket fence, husband, or wife, whichever it is, in your three-bedroom house. That’s the American dream, you know? David: Do you guys have it right now? Paige: We’re not completely there yet. We’ve struggled, we’re struggling. Financially, you know? It’s been a battle. David: First, Alex and Paige. They’re engaged, and they’re planning a wedding. We visited them, and their pets, to talk about the tariffs that are threatening Alex’s job just as they’re working to build a life together. Paige used to work at Mid Cont, but she left because things were so uncertain. Now, she opens at a cafe, and after her day ends, she drives Alex to work the night shift at Mid Cont. They almost never see each other because they’re working such long hours, but they’re hoping it will pay off in the long run. For now, they need this job — just like many other employees at Mid Cont. Michelle: There’s a lot of people that are nervous, you know? We’re all kind of sitting here in limbo not knowing whether or not we’re going to have a job next week or whatever. David: Are you nervous? Michelle: No … My philosophy is, it is what it is. David: There are some people who I think look at this and they’re like, “President Trump imposed these tariffs, the tariffs have affected the company.” It’s like a really simple story. Um. But you seem to disagree with them and see more, some more forces at work. Michelle: I do. Ultimately with President Trump putting the tariff tax on here, he’s trying to bring everything back here to the United States, and I understand that. David: I mean, have you lost any faith in him … Michelle: No. David: … since this tariff went into effect? Michelle: No. It’s hard right now, and a lot of times when things are hard, they’re gonna get harder until they start getting better. That’s just a fact of life. He’s not trying to divide us. He’s not trying to tear us apart. He’s trying to bring more closer together. Philip: I don’t think I’ve ever had a job where I’ve been taken care of as well as I have here. My daughter, you know, she’s had two open heart surgeries. She’s had a stint, a balloon. Lots of procedures on her heart. They don’t question me. They give me … They make sure I’m covered. They take care of me. David: You’ve lost workers, and there were some predictions that the company would close down. What has that been like? Philip: I’m not going to lie, like for the first while I was terrified. Now I’ve kind of gotten to where I try not to think about it ’cause it’s affecting everything else that I do. Like when we lost all the people and the machines that, you know, aren’t running. It’s sad. ’Cause I know who used to run that machine. I know they had kids. Or they had bills. You know, they were here day in and day out and then now they’re gone. Just because somebody doesn’t want to give us an exemption. David: So you don’t have faith he’s going to … Philip: No. David: … give you the exemption? Philip: Not after this long. He kind of made it sound like he cared about the American worker. Apparently he doesn’t care about the nail business. David: So are you a Democrat who voted for Trump in …? Philip: Yeah. David: OK. Philip: Yeah a lot of people gave me, they’re like “What?” “Really?” Trump made a lot of good promises. He’s done a lot of them, but nowhere in there did it say, “Hey I’m going to raise the tariffs on this, or I’m gonna do this,” and then affect my job. I wouldn’t have even seen that coming. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t vote for him again. David: You wouldn’t? Phillip: No. Chris: All these tariffs were put in place for a reason. I think they did what they thought was the right thing at that time. They weren’t thinking about all the consequences, the downstream manufacturing facilities that are going out of business. You know, you know there’s an issue with a policy if you have 20,000 exclusion requests. David: All companies like yours that have been hit by this? Chris: That’s correct. And if there are 20,000 exclusion requests, that means there’s a definite problem with the policy. We’re very transparent with our employees. They know that we’ve been fighting against imports from other countries. So to them when he was saying, “Let’s make America great.” “Let’s keep American jobs.” They were all thinking “Hey, he’s gonna help us. He’s gonna help us fight the battle against those imports. And he’s gonna keep our jobs.” And in reality, right now, we’re fighting a battle, right now, against our own country. And that doesn’t seem right. Jimmy: I’ve been a mechanic, a welder, fabricator, pipe bender, I’ve been holding wrenches for 20 plus years. I love it. David: What do you like about it? Jimmy: Um, I get to create every day. Fabricate something every day. Make something new. Help design something. Make our machines run a little better. David: So how hard has it been to watch this company go through a really hard time this year? Jimmy: It’s rough. I mean, these people are family to me. You know, I have 500 brothers and sisters here. Well, not anymore. You know, I’ve been in Poplar Bluff and the surrounding area for 13 years, and there’s not 500 jobs out there. It’s gonna hurt if anything happens to this place. I voted, and I back our president 100 percent. If he was here right now, I’d shake his hand. He knows, um, what’s best for us and the country. I think it’s hitting us pretty hard, and some of those policies are a little misguided, but for the overall good of America, I think he’s doing what’s right. David: So you’re basically saying that if this company, if you, if your brothers and sisters here have to sacrifice, it’s, you trust him that it’s for a greater good? Jimmy: I do. I can’t speak for everybody, but I do. David: What is it about him that keeps you believing in him so strongly? Jimmy: He can’t be bought. I think he’s true and sincere. He’s a businessman. I know he can run this business. I know he can run America. That’s the ultimate business. And if he’s a businessman, you might want to listen. Alex: Well I mean, get off work 7 o’clock in the morning. God I wish I slept more. I make $10.25 an hour. Which I mean that’s higher than minimum wage in Missouri, and I mean that’s not bad for around here, but considering the amount of work I do, I feel like I, I mean I should get paid more. David: For you guys, I mean trying to make ends meet, and trying to get that dream, and working your butts off, when you look at Donald Trump, if there’s a connection there, what is it? Alex: Him being just as human as us. The fact that he, he failed how many times before he finally succeeded? I’m sure he had a better upbringing than I did, you know. I’m sure his parents had more money than my parents, you know, ever did. And he had it a bit easier, but he, I mean he still worked hard for what he got, you know? David: What were you hoping for yourself, like in terms of what Trump might bring you? Alex: Better opportunities to better my life. More opportunities. You know, better pay, more jobs. David: And so far you’re not totally feeling it? Alex: No. David: But you sound like you’re open-minded, like you’re giving him these two more years to kind of see what happens. Alex: I mean anybody can make a change. You know, and everybody deserves a second chance. You know, or to continue on the chance they still got. If he can show results and, you know, make things happen, then I mean he’ll have my support again, but until then, I mean, it’s yet to be seen.