They are from different places and have different beliefs and experiences. But they all want action.
President Donald Trump will give his first speech to a Joint Session of Congress on Tuesday. While it is a fool’s errand to ever predict what the 45th president will say, we do have a feeling he’ll at least touch upon a few key manufacturing issues, including trade.
But what do Americans actually want Trump to talk about? We asked 11 people, most of whom are connected to manufacturing and live in the industrial heartland, what they hope the president will discuss in his address.
There were some prevailing themes. Despite the chaotic start to Trump’s presidency, many of them are still willing to give the president a chance to create jobs and strengthen manufacturing.
But they also are tired of the distractions — they want Trump to focus up and enact smart policy that will improve the lives of blue-collar workers.
Robert Biles, Michigan
Robert Biles, an employee of AK Steel Dearborn Works and a member of the United Auto Workers, says he wants President Trump to share specific details on how he plans to grow manufacturing — and thus grow the middle class.
Right now, Biles worries Trump is taking credit for creating jobs that he had nothing to do with, including the recent announcement from Ford that it is canceling a planned plant in Mexico and instead investing in a Michigan facility.
“I would love to tell him to stop taking credit,” Biles says. “This isn’t all spin zone.”
But there is a lot Trump could focus on to help strengthen manufacturing, Biles says.
"I would love to tell him to stop taking credit. This isn’t all spin zone."
For example, Biles wants Trump to explain how he plans to grow manufacturing jobs if efficiency outpaces growth. He’d also like Trump to provide a workforce training plan.
Biles is concerned there has been too much focus on short-term solutions and not enough on long-term efforts to help the middle class. In addition, Biles is concerned Trump will enact policy that will just benefit the wealthy, he says.
“Trickle down just doesn’t work, and merely taking taxes down and giving tax breaks and that kind of thing doesn’t work,” Biles said. “If corporate greed were never around, that would work. But it doesn’t — they just pocket the money.”
Chris Cox, Indiana
Chris Cox admits he does not agree with President Trump on much. But the ArcelorMittal worker and United Steelworkers member does hope that the president makes good on his promise to strengthen America’s trade laws.
“My main thing I hope he will talk about on the trade aspect: What are we going to do with specifics? Not just, ‘We’re going to take care of it,’” Cox says. “I would appreciate more specifics on how we’re going to come back in the long-term, not just in the short-term.”
Cox points to the ongoing steel imports crisis as an example. Tens of thousands of U.S. steelworkers faced layoffs, and while tariffs have been issued to level the playing field, only a handful of workers have gotten called back thus far.
"I would appreciate more specifics on how we’re going to come back in the long-term, not just in the short-term."
“The way we prove trade hardship on stuff coming in, we have to lose jobs and basically shut down, and families are destroyed,” says Cox, who is married with two young daughters. “Then we get the tariffs and start to build back up, but we never fully get back.”
Cox adds that while he was glad to see jobs at Carrier saved, he didn’t like how it was handled, describing it as short-sighted. “It won’t actually help in the long run,” Cox says.
“I think he’s been a little hasty,” Cox adds of Trump. “Things haven’t been planned, explained and planned out thoroughly… I wish he’d be more thorough with his actions.”
Justin Ellsworth, Pennsylvania
Justin Ellsworth is a production and transportation worker at U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works, located on the Monongahela River south of Pittsburgh. A 12-year veteran steelworker, Ellsworth feels President Trump has made a lot of promises, but has not offered any specifics about reviving the steel industry.
“First and foremost, I’d like to see the president to be able to make some sort of specific and coherent statement on what exactly his plans for steel are,” Ellsworth says. “I would like him to acknowledge that the reason that losing steel jobs is so hurtful to communities is that they are good-paying, union jobs in which people can support a family. I would like him to say something specific about country of origin rules, and how bad actors shuffle products between countries to hide their true origin.
“And I want him to propose a specific plan on what to do about China artificially devaluing its currency.”
Ellsworth has held several chairmanship positions at United Steelworkers (USW) Local 1557, which represents about 1,200 USW members. When production slowed at Clairton Works, Ellsworth took a temporary job working as an organizer for USW International.
Ellsworth realizes the devil is in the details. He’s heard a lot of rhetoric from Trump, who often reels off a list of America’s steel manufacturing problems. But to him, not mentioning a definite course of action is just not enough.
“He needs to show he is serious about the workers of this industry and wasn’t just using hard working steelworkers as a campaign prop,” Ellsworth says.
Fritz Frohnapfel, West Virginia
Although the retired steelworker is a Democrat, Fritz Frohnapfel crossed the aisle to vote for President Trump. One reason: Frohnapfel has long watched in frustration as jobs were sent overseas, and nothing seemed to stop the exodus. “Obviously, whatever we’ve been doing for the last 20 years isn’t working,” Frohnapfel said.
Now that Trump is in office, Frohnapfel thinks he is “on the right track with keeping the jobs here” and thinks the president should be given the opportunity to enact his jobs plan.
"Honestly, I kind of think the guy has got some great ideas. I just don’t care for his tact, the way he comes on. ... He needs to be just a little more diplomatic."
But Frohnapfel also wants the president to tone down his rhetoric.
“Honestly, I kind of think the guy has got some great ideas. I just don’t care for his tact, the way he comes on, the way he presents himself,” Frohnapfel said. “He needs to be just a little more diplomatic.”
Frohnapfel, who volunteers with his local labor council to advocate for job creation, has a few ideas on where Trump can get started. He wants to make sure the military is equipped with American-made goods, from ammunition to the dishes used to feed the troops. Frohnapfel even knows where the military can source its dinner plates — from West Virginia’s own Homer Laughlin, which makes Fiesta.
“It would make me feel great to know that I live in the county that supplies the military,” he said.
Tom Gaulrapp, Jr., Illinois
When President Trump talks about manufacturing workers who lost their jobs to China, he is talking about people like Tom Gaulrapp, Jr.
Gaulrupp spent 33 years operating high-tech equipment for Honeywell and Sensata Technologies in Freeport, Ill. At the end of 2012, Sensata sold its business, equipment and all, to a company in China.
Sensata Technologies amassed record profits in 2010 and 2011, but company executives realized they could increase profits even more by offshoring to China. Gaulrapp was one of 170 workers who were laid-off (after teaching the Chinese technicians how to operate the machinery).
Gaulrapp still can’t believe they would move such a profitable company to China, and he has an idea for Trump to fix things.
“Honestly, what they need to do — and he’ll never do this — but what would make me feel a lot better if they said they were just going to take the profit motive out of moving jobs outside of the United States,” Gaulrapp says. “They are talking about putting a tax on Mexican goods but the only way that’s going to work is if you freeze the prices these business can charge. As long as they can pass the price increase along to their customers, it’s not going to make a difference.”
Gaulrapp, now 58, applied for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) and completed his associate’s degree in accounting only to find there were no jobs available for someone his age in Freeport.
“They are always talking about globalization but globalization is just a nice word for greed,” Gaulrapp says. “They say 90 percent of the world’s consumers don’t live in the United States, Well, that’s true, but how many of that 90 percent can buy a car. Some guy living in Vietnam is not going to buy a brand new car. So that’s where their logic is completely out the window.”
Chuck Jones, Indiana
You might remember Chuck Jones from his Twitter tussle with President Trump over the details of the then-President-elect’s efforts to save jobs at Carrier.
But despite their now infamous feud, Jones calls the loss of factory jobs are “one of the most important issues that we’ve got right now” and wants to see Trump work with Congress to do something about it.
“I’m not naïve to think this isn’t going to keep happening [but President Trump] might be able to put a little pressure on Congress to let them know that he wants to pass a bill and that he wants to have them join his efforts to get it passed,” Jones explains. “That, without a doubt, would be a step in the right direction, and might be quite helpful.”
When Carrier announced it was moving jobs to Mexico, Jones recalls he “made a comment asking who will be next.” Word soon got out that Rexnord, literally located around the corner from Carrier, would be offshoring its production.
“As far as keeping these jobs here in this country, we need to come up with some legislation that makes it more difficult for the companies that are already very profitable, Rexnord and Carrier in particular, to leave… because we can’t compete with $3 an hour jobs down in Mexico,” Jones said. “We’re not the first community to lose jobs, but it just seems like it is never going to stop.”
Jennifer Knotts, Ohio
Jennifer Knotts has strong opinions about what President Trump needs to do to revitalize U.S. manufacturing, but she isn’t holding her breath.
“What I would really love for him to do is make a commitment for infrastructure and to make sure all of the components are made in America, made by United States steel companies,” Knotts says. “That’s what I would like to see. All products here in America should be using American-made steel.”
Knotts has worked for nine years as a maintenance technician mechanical (MTM) at the ArcelorMittal steel mill in Cleveland. Prior to working at ArcelorMittal, the 48-year-old mother of three children worked for eight years as a millwright for Ford Motor Co.
At ArcelorMittal, part of her job is making the frames for cars assembled in Michigan and Ohio.
So, she has seen the steel industry from both sides of the spectrum. She once was a United Auto Workers (UAW) member; today she is a member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 979.
Knotts and her husband of 18 years have witnessed the government take action to support manufacturing workers.
“We do manufacture to certain extent on behalf of the UAW and the car industry,” Knotts says. “That ‘Cash for Clunkers’ program was the only thing that kept us going for a little bit there during the recession. That saved our jobs here. It was very dismal and very bleak. If it wasn’t for a program like that I don’t think we would have gotten back as soon as we did.”
And Knotts has one more suggestion for Trump — however unrealistic.
“I would love to actually see his hotel that was made with Chinese steel torn down and replaced with steel made in the United States,” she says.
Lindsay Patterson, Pennsylvania
You might say Lindsay Patterson is a jack of all trades for the United Steelworkers (USW).
He worked for 25 years at Allied Tube and Conduit Corp in Philadelphia. But after the plant shut down in 2015, Patterson — who served as the president of USW Local 404 at Allied Tube — never stopped fighting for his fellow steelworkers. He continues to organize local unions and assists with contract negotiations.
Patterson is concerned with the process of filing trade cases with the Commerce Department and the International Trade Commission. He feels it is too little, too late — and thinks the Trump administration should take serious steps to reform the process.
“I would like to tell President Trump that they need to put a stop to the imports that are coming in,” Patterson says. “We win an ITC hearing, but they just keep coming back from different countries. When we beat China, then we had to fight Korea. When we beat Korea, then we had to fight Brazil or someone like that.”
Changes to the trade laws will help address some of these concerns, Patterson adds.
“When we look at tariffs and we look at trade cases, I think they should be more product-driven instead of country-driven,” he explains. “We file a petition against a particular country but we don’t file against a particular product, therefore, it just opens the door for other products to come in from other countries.”
Durwin "Oodie" Royal, Texas
Durwin “Oodie” Royal is a steelworker at U.S. Steel’s Lone Star Tubular Operations in East Texas. He’s been there for years and, as president of United Steelworkers Local 4134, has seen firsthand as the industry was rattled by waves of imports and subsequent layoffs.
He was there in 2014, when U.S. Steel successfully pursued a trade case against South Korean steelmakers, whom it accused of dumping illegally subsidized pipe into the American market.
Here’s the problem: Steel mills don’t just turn back on in an instant. So even though significant duties were placed on that South Korean pipe, a lot of Lone Star’s employees remained out of work. Some still are. And candidate Donald Trump’s “America first” rhetoric on trade and jobs spoke directly to them.
“Everything he was talking about was red meat for our membership, but I think he gets a little coarse,” says Royal, who was personally skeptical of the candidate, and has remained so now that he’s in the White House.
What’s more, as president of a local at a steel facility that’s been idled, Royal is focused specifically on the discussions that President Trump has had that could affect his livelihood and those of his coworkers.
“He’s had meetings with my CEO, Mario Longhi of U.S. Steel, three times. Mario just came out of one of them the other day. And I’m negotiating with U.S. Steel to keep our plant open.”
That said, Royal plans to watch as the president delivers his first address to a joint session of Congress. What he’s looking for is pretty straightforward.
“It’s only been a month. But I’d like to see a bill, some kind of legislation, that would actually help workers,” he said. “All we’ve got so far are executive orders, that may or may not do anything. Stop tweeting at the press. I’d like him to see him actually help people.”
Cliff Tobey, Minnesota
Cliff Tobey works as a mechanic on the heavy duty equipment used to extract low-grade iron ore from Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range. That ore is turned into taconite pellets, the first step in the process of making steel.
Tobey wants the Trump administration to better define what constitutes American-made steel, as he knows the specifics have a big impact on the livelihood of Iron Range workers.
“I think one of the things I would like to hear Trump say is what really is made in the USA,” Tobey says. “They talk about different things that come from another country to the U.S., and they do some kind of modification to it and say it’s all made in the USA. And we’d like to see, as far as coming from iron ore, which is obviously the first step in steel making, we’d like to see that he talks about truly made in the USA. Not a bunch of Chinese slabs that run through our mills and take a bunch of hot band steel and treat it and all of a sudden it’s made in the USA.”
A third generation Iron Range miner, Tobey is also the president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 2660, which represents workers at the Keetac plant. In his more than 20 years of employment, Tobey has not only navigated layoffs on his own — he also has witnessed a nearly 50 percent layoff of workers at the six Iron Range facilities.
Tobey has taken a lot of flak from his steelworker members because they voted for Trump. The members felt that things just kept getting worse under the Democrats, so they listened to Trump talk about steel and now hope he does something about the failing industry.
“From an iron ore standpoint, we’d like to see whether it’s truly made in the USA and not just modified here,” Tobey adds. “Made in the USA should be about the American workers and not about a catch phrase or propaganda all at the name of a bigger bottom dollar for these corporations.”
Dave Wasiura, New York
Dave Wasiura, who works as an organizer for the United Steelworkers in the manufacturing city of Buffalo, has two different set of hopes for President Trump’s speech (and his time in office).
In a dream scenario, Wasiura would like Trump to create good-paying middle class jobs for everyone who wants one, backed by a strong commitment to workers to allow them to freely organize if they choose.
Wasiura doesn’t expect that will happen, especially given the fact Trump’s original pick for Labor Secretary opposed things like minimum wage. And he notes that some people are “very worried and very scared” by things like a push for a National Right to Work law, for example.
"I’d like to see a pretty strong stance on fair trade versus free trade, which I don’t think is really that far out of the realm of his campaign."
But realistically, Wasiura thinks Trump can — and should — make good on a couple of his key campaign promises.
“I’d like to see a pretty strong stance on fair trade versus free trade, which I don’t think is really that far out of the realm of his campaign, and a commitment to American-made products, especially in procurement projects,” Wasiura says.
In New York, for example, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is leading an effort to enact the strongest state Buy America provisions in the nation. It’s creating a bit of optimism and should “set the pattern” for the rest of the country, Wasiura says.
Meanwhile, Trump’s election has led to “a reawakening” among those who care about labor issues, Wasiura says.
“Our message is resonating that, ‘Hey, if we don’t take care of ourselves, we’re going to be under attack,’” Wasiura says. “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”