US Dept of Labor reports 76,000 Wisconsin workers lost jobs due to imports or jobs shipped overseas.
“A majority of primary voters in both parties believed trade kills jobs in the U.S. rather than creates them.”
SOUTH MILWAUKEE – Maurice King worked for Joerns Healthcare, a medical furniture manufacturer, for nearly 43 years. Until suddenly one day, he didn’t. Joerns shuttered its plant in Stevens Point, Wis., in 2012 after years of gradually outsourcing work to China. It cut loose 175 workers. Now the 62-year-old former local steelworkers union president works a 2-11 p.m. shift at a fan factory.
No more local fish fries on Friday nights with his wife, or his side job for 25 years as town chairman in Dewey, population 975. He hasn’t yet earned a week of vacation. As for retirement? That’s been pushed back. “You had the job, you figured you were planning out how things were going to go,” King said. “Now you’ve got to back up and rethink.”
Establishment voices of economists, government and business officials argue that trade deals are critical in a global economy, and great for America. But critics such as organized labor call them “death warrants.” And in blue collar communities in Wisconsin and across the industrial Midwest, that economic angst, coupled with some sense of betrayal, helps explain the roiling politics of 2016.
“Politically, it’s an easy point to make: it isn’t totally untrue at all to say that globalization has hurt American workers,” said former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat who served from 2003-2011, during a period of economic churn. “What you do about that is a lot harder to figure.”
Wisconsin votes Tuesday. But soon after come other industrial states, including Pennsylvania. And all could be battlegrounds this fall in the general election. And a lot will look like Milwaukee, once known as “the machine shop to the world,” now grappling with a new economy.
Wisconsin has lost more than more than 68,000 manufacturing jobs since the mid-1990s and the first of several controversial trade pacts with Mexico, China and others took hold.
Additionally, the U.S. Department of Labor has certified about 76,000 Wisconsin workers in various fields as having lost their jobs due to either imports or the work they do being shipped overseas.
In Wisconsin, voters are about evenly split on whether free trade agreements have helped or hurt, according to a recent Marquette University Law School poll. In Michigan and Ohio, a majority of primary voters in both parties believed trade kills jobs in the U.S. rather than creates them.
That’s the feeling inside union halls and communities that lie in the shadow of shuttered factories. Trade deals like NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) spell only uncertainty and distress.