Next president needs to focus on jobs, TRW workers say


Selena McElmury knows she probably will be on the unemployment line when the next president takes office in January 2009. She’s not giving up, however, on creating a better future for herself and her co-workers.
McElmury has been posting the voting records of Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama in the TRW plant in Winona, Minn., where she has worked for the past 27 years. She is encouraging her co-workers to get registered and vote.

“People are skeptical of everybody” running for office, she explained. “But in the end, at least for myself and a lot of us, we know what we have seen. At least with Obama there’s a hope of change.”

What McElmury and her co-workers have seen are layoffs and plant closings – and more on the horizon. TRW, one of the world’s largest makers of auto parts, employed as many as 320 people in Winona earlier this year. This summer, 66 were laid off. Another 90 are projected to lose their jobs after the first of the year – and that was before the current global economic crisis occurred, said Ben Hovell, president of UAW Local 958, which represents the TRW workers.

Hovell, McElmury and other TRW workers appeared at a state Capitol news conference Friday to talk about what’s at stake in the Nov. 4 election. The news conference was organized by the Obama campaign, which brought in one of its national co-chairs, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to speak in support of the Democratic candidate.

Flanked by a group of TRW workers, Durbin said, “The men and women standing behind me, who have really been cast aside by the Bush-McCain economic policies, need another choice.”

The workers in Winona make climate control units for General Motors and Chrysler vehicles. The downturn in the automotive industry has hit them hard, but what really galls them is the outsourcing of their jobs to other countries.

Ann Schaub, who works on the assembly line at TRW, described how her production line was shut down and shipped to Reynosa, Mexico.

The Winona workers earn about $11 an hour; their counterparts in Mexico make about $1 an hour, she said.

“We rolled up our sleeves, gave them 110 percent and set plant production records,” she said. “When it was all said and done, it didn’t matter.”

Some 40,000 jobs have been lost in Minnesota in recent years due to unfair trade, according to the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition.

Ken Evenson worked at the TRW plant in Rushford, Minn., for 27 years until it closed, putting 150 people on the street. He was able to get hired at the Winona facility, but now faces the prospect of losing this job, too.

“The only thing (for TRW) is the bottom line,” he said. “They don’t care about anyone else.”

TRW announced in July it expected to make $16 billion in profits this year, but like many companies has seen its stock price tumble in recent days.

Durbin said an Obama administration would end tax breaks that reward corporations for moving jobs overseas, invest in “green” jobs and pursue other job creation strategies, provide stronger enforcement of existing trade agreements and end unfair trade practices.

“We can get America back on track with the right kind of leadership,” Durbin said.

Minnesota AFL-CIO President Ray Waldron, who also joined the TRW workers at the news conference, said Minnesota unions are working hard on behalf of Obama and other labor-endorsed candidates, such as U.S. Senate candidate Al Franken, who is challenging Republican incumbent Norm Coleman.

“In these tough economic times, we can’t afford to have John McCain as our leader,” Waldron said. “We’re going to take Senator John McCain, Senator Norm Coleman and put those guys in the unemployment line.”