Brian Reed has known some of his co-workers for decades and considers them friends, but he’s been very direct with the ones getting extra pay to train their replacements.
“This place is shutting down and moving purely for corporate greed, and in return you’re just as greedy as they are, because you’re chasing $4 an hour,” Reed said. “In my eyes, all you’re doing is helping this company succeed when this company has failed you.”
Reed has worked for Rexnord Corp. at its ball-bearing factory in Indianapolis for 24 years. Although the company is profitable, it announced last fall that it would be shuttering the plant, laying off 300 people and replacing them with workers in Mexico and Texas.
To get the new workers up to speed, Rexnord has flown groups of them to Indiana to be trained by the soon-to-be-laid-off employees they’re replacing. The company hashed out this arrangement after completing a severance agreement with the local United Steelworkers union. The typical hourly wage at the plant is about $25; employees who volunteer to train can get an extra $4.
Workers have been protesting the move, which they argue is greedy because the company is profitable and the plant is productive. President Donald Trump criticized the company in a tweet in December, saying it was an example of the kind of offshoring his administration would stop with new trade deals.
But it’s unlikely that Trump could change U.S. trade policy fast enough to have an effect on Rexnord’s decision, and the tweet hasn’t done the trick, either. After all, Rexnord is just one of dozens of companies laying people off and shipping their jobs abroad in any given month, even as Trump dubiously claims to have forced firms like General Motors and Ford to announce new capital investment in the U.S.
“To be a viable company that contributes to economic growth, we must meet customers’ needs with high-quality products at competitive prices,” Rexnord said in December. “We work diligently to do this while making responsible decisions for the people and partners who depend on this company and its long-term health.”
Trump did succeed in getting one company, Carrier Corporation, to cancel its plans to close a factory in the U.S. ― a furnace factory in Indianapolis about a mile from Rexnord’s bearings plant. Many Rexnord workers, who are represented by the same chapter of the Steelworkers Union as the Carrier Workers, hoped that Trump would turn his attention to their plight. Those hopes faded slightly after Trump exaggerated the number of Carrier jobs saved and then feuded with president of the union over it.
For all Rexnord workers know, Trump has already moved on to other things. Meanwhile, bitterness over the replacement-training effort has been simmering since last fall. Don Zering, president of the United Steelworkers unit at Rexnord, says the atmosphere in the factory has been tense. About 20 people volunteered to train.
“There’s a little bit of friction here between people, but we’re working through it,” Zering said. “It’s more [complaints] than I thought it would be.”
Tim Feltner is a longtime Rexnord machinist who compared participating in the training to crossing a picket line.
“It’s a sellout,” he said. “I’m not mad at my union brothers, I just can’t understand.”
Mark Elliott is one of the workers Reed says he chastised for volunteering to train. Both men are assemblers who’ve worked for the company for over two decades. Elliott said he’s not fazed by the criticism, though he thinks his colleagues should direct their anger at the company, not him.
“I don’t blame them for being upset,” he said.
The shutdown agreement between Rexnord and the union gives employees a week’s pay for every year they’ve been with the company ― but only if they stay until the end. In the meantime, it requires everyone to “fully cooperate” with the company’s phase-out of operations, including “allowing themselves to be viewed while working” and answering questions about what they’re doing.
According to a union official, after workers complained to the media about having to train their replacements, the company started offering extra pay for volunteers for hands-on training.
“Any associate who is involved in training opted in, and receives a financial incentive over and above severance benefits,” a Rexnord spokeswoman said in an email, adding that the training was not part of the formal shutdown agreement with the union.
Several workers have said they resent that they can only get their severance if they stay until the plant closes this spring. And some said they don’t understand why Rexnord brought the replacement workers to Indiana instead of sending people to Mexico or Texas to train them there ― though the company is apparently planning to do that, too.
Arromoneo Baskin, 32, volunteered not only to train workers at the plant, but to go to Monterrey, Mexico, in the coming weeks to help train workers there for a few months. He says that if anyone has a problem with it, they can pay his bills.
“At the end of the day, it’s corporate greed, but what are you going to do about it?” Baskin said. “You got to make the best of the opportunity that you have.”
He’s worked for Rexnord for four years as an assembler, and says he feels bad for the older workers who might have a harder time getting new jobs after the plant closes. Baskin is optimistic about his prospects; older workers generally have longer spells of unemployment than younger ones.
Elliott and Reed are 52 and 45, respectively. Both men have families. Both say they don’t know what they’re going to do when their jobs end in a few months.
“When you get into those 50s, jobs are scarce,” Elliott said. “A lot of people don’t want you because of your age. It’s a scary situation coming up.”
It’s scary for them, and awkward for the trainees, who hail from Mexico and Texas and will be paid less for their work.
“They’re a little nervous. They’re in a new place,” Elliott said. “And then they’re surrounded by people who don’t even want to say good morning to you or look at you in your face.”
Reed says he doesn’t resent the trainees, mad as he is at the company and the workers training them.
“I’m sure they have families. I can see that,” he said. “It’s just hard to separate them from this company, because now they work for this company.”
This article has been updated to include a comment from Rexnord.