For some local union members, Trump’s attacks hit close to home

David Hallas has worked at the Gerdau steel plant in St. Paul for 18 years.

David Hallas was watching TV on an early-September night when one of President Trump’s campaign ads caught his eye.

“It was popping on the screen every 5 minutes,” Hallas remembered. “All of a sudden I’m like, wait a minute!”

That was the moment Hallas glimpsed footage from Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to the Gerdau Ameristeel plant in St. Paullast year. Across the screen scrolled a big, bold tagline: “JOBS.”

Hallas, a member of United Steelworkers Local 7263, has put in 18 years at the Gerdau plant, and he was in the crowd for Pence’s event. But the company has since announced plans to shutter the St. Paul facility, making the tagline a gut punch to the 222 union members who lost their jobs June 30.

“It just shows that they’re so disconnected from working people,” said Hallas, one of 40 people still working at the plant through March. “They have no idea what’s going on, and they’re willing to use workers as props.”

For Hallas, voting Trump out of office this year is an opportunity to hold the president accountable for his failed promises. He’s one of many local union members who have seen firsthand the failures of Trump’s reckless, divisive and often-inept approach to the highest office in the land.

For many union members, this election feels personal.

Students living in fear

Since Trump took office in January 2017, Camila Carroll has seen an increase in anxiety and trauma among her students at Highland Park Middle School. A member of the St. Paul Federation of Educators, Carroll teaches English language learners. Many of her students come from immigrant and refugee communities.

“They don’t know if there’s a day when mom or dad or another family member will be taken away,” Carroll said. “I know because they tell me how scared they are.”

At his campaign rallies Trump regularly degrades refugees and their impact on local communities, drawing wild cheers from his supporters. The hateful rhetoric creates “hard conversations” with emotionally vulnerable students, Carroll said. “No one should have to go through that,” she added.

Some of her students’ family members have been swept up in the administration’s immigration raids. “More of our students have had family members separated” since Trump took office, Carroll said.

“I listen to the stories of when they watched their dad get deported,” she said. “And we don’t have the resources we need as a school to give them the mental-health supports they need to deal with such a traumatic event.

“It’s happening right here in our own backyard.”

Workers at the VA Hospital in Minneapolis, members of AFGE Local 1969, rally for a fair contract. AFGE has been in talks with the Trump administration for two years, with no agreement.

Veterans deserve better

Tom Edwards served in the U.S. Navy for 15 years before taking a job at the post office and joining the American Postal Workers Union. Now retired and living in West St. Paul, Edwards relies on the VA for his health care, which he described as “second to none.”

When local members of American Federation of Government Employees Local 1969 who work at the VA began sounding the alarm about efforts to undermine the VA, including understaffing and attacks on workers’ rights, Edwards took notice.

To the former postal worker, the story sounded all too familiar.

“The VA is just like the post office to them,” Edwards said. “The money that goes into the VA, the private sector wants it. They want all those billions of dollars that could be made with privatization of both of those facilities.”

Connie Beissel feels the same way. She retired in March after a long career as a member of Branch 9 of the National Association of Letter Carriers, and was so upset with the administration’s attacks on the post office that she committed to volunteering at Labor 2020 phone banks twice a week.

“This election became personal to me when the current administration said that he didn’t trust the Postal Service and Letter Carriers in particular,” Beissel said. “Although I am now retired, I still consider myself a Letter Carrier, and I still have a loyalty to ensure that the U.S. Postal Service survives for another 250 years.”

Failure by any measure

By any policy measure, Trump’s first term in office has been a disaster for working people. But it has been a windfall for corporations and the richest 1% of Americans.

The $2 trillion tax cut passed in 2017 slashed corporate tax rates, prompted a surge of stock buybacks and delivered huge benefits to offshore investors and CEOs. But there’s no evidence to support the president’s claim those corporate profits would trickle down into workers’ paychecks.

The Trump administration renegotiated NAFTA, and has claimed the era of corporations “offshoring” U.S. manufacturing jobs was “over.” In fact, the opposite is true. A report issued in August by the Economic Policy Institute found nearly 1,800 factories shuttered between 2016 and 2018. And St. Paul’s Gerdau facility will soon be added to the list.

And then there’s Trump’s failure to lead a competent, nationwide response to the pandemic. Enhanced unemployment benefits for millions of Americans have run out, while America’s essential workers have been left to fend for their own health and safety by Trump’s Department of Labor. All the while, U.S. billionaires have watched their wealth grow by $845 billion, and Wall Street has hardly missed a beat.

There are plenty of reasons to vote Trump out of office, but for union members like Edwards and Carroll, it’s just as important to see Trump – and all that he stands for – defeated.

“Many of the students I’ve had, who I’ve connected with around these issues, they’re going to use their voice and they’re going to go vote,” Carroll said. “It gives me hope they are seeing the difference they can make in the world.”

Edwards recalled Trump’s quip at a campaign rally here in Minnesota that if he loses the state, he’s never coming back. “When I heard that,” Edwards said, “I decided I’ll be darned if I’m not doing everything in my power to make it happen.”

One thought on “For some local union members, Trump’s attacks hit close to home

  1. What a joke this story is. Not on the writer of the story, but bec Dave Hallas was the being interviewed. I worked at Gerdau and was one of the many laid off June 30, 2020. He still has his job. He took care of himself just like the other union officers while we were kicked to the curb. Didn’t even get support from the USWA. All the union dues we paid and that were still in the union members account, thousands of dollars, taken from us. I’m far from alone in my thinking. In fact, I never heard anything good about local 7263 since the first day I started. This is also not the first union I’ve been in and I’ve honestly never have seen anything like it. It’s sad that the officers that were elected looked out for themselves and didn’t do a thing for the members that paid weekly in union dues. We had so many questions left unanswered and the day we were laid off none of them answered, while every union officer still had their jobs. They covered their asses in the severance contract and our still working today and will be for some time. Local 7263 is the best example of why people shy away or don’t like unions. I’ll always be pro union. I know how a good union runs. More resources need to be put into place for members of any union to go to when they encounter problems with their union. There’s to many hoops to jump through and why I believe many people don’t bother. I loved my job and miss working with my union brothers every single day. As do so many of them. Many of us still keep in touch and wish we were still going to work with each other everyday at Gerdau. After reading this article I couldn’t not say something after what happened to us.

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