A Donald Trump campaign ad touting his creation of the “best economy in the world” includes a shot of his visit to a steel plant that announced hundreds of layoffs in an industry that was struggling even before the pandemic.
The montage ad shows Trump in a personalized white hardhat at a U.S. Steel plant in Granite City, Illinois, in 2018.
U.S. Steel announced in April it was laying off about 2,700 workers with a notice that was sent to as many as 6,500 employees nationwide amid the COVID-19 crisis. (Its total staff last December was 27,500). The Pittsburgh-based steelmaker idled seven of its 10 blast furnaces in the nation. U.S. Steel posted a $391 million loss in the first quarter of this year.
The Granite City plant in Trump’s ad announced in April that it was laying off 737 workers as car companies cut back production after the coronavirus pandemic spread across the U.S. It’s unclear exactly how many workers have been let go. Last year the plant had already laid off an undisclosed number of nonunion workers.
At least 1,500 workers in U.S. Steel plants lost their jobs before the outbreak of COVID-19 as demand and prices plummeted after a short reprieve provided by Trump’s 25% tariff on steel imports. Many analysts believe Trump’s tariffs made things worse for the industry.
“Donald Trump likes to use workers as props, but he’s far less interested in spending time caring for their lived reality,” United Steel Workers spokesperson Jess Kamm Broomell told Vice, which was the first to report the ad. “It’s not surprising that someone who deals only in photo-ops would ignore the real workers, families and communities that continue to suffer on his watch.”
The steel industry experienced a brief bounce after Trump’s tariffs on imports in mid-2018 as buyers rushed to finalize purchases before any jams developed in the supply chain. That’s when Trump made a speech at Granite City about how the industry was roaring back.
But by last year, the price of steel fell by half from its 2018 peak. Giddy with tariff protections — and corporate tax cuts — the industry had overspent on new operations and outstripped domestic demand, according to industry analysts. In addition, Trump’s trade war on a number of fronts helped depress the global economy, further dampening demand. American manufacturing was officially in a recession by last October.
U.S. Steel CEO David Burritt last week touted “improving market conditions” from June into September. But the company still expects to report a $100 million loss at the end of this quarter.
Here’s the “best economy” ad:
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