AUSTIN (KXAN) — As the city of Austin prepared for an afternoon visit from President Donald Trump, union workers and Texas Democratic leaders gathered to talk about what they believe to be economic harm the President’s policies have caused.
The Texas Democratic Party and Texas AFL-CIO hosted a round table designed to counter the narrative Trump plans to be touting Wednesday.
Those in attendance included Austin Mayor Steve Adler, Texas State Representative Gina Hinojosa (D-Austin); State Representative John Bucy III (D-Cedar Park); Travis County Commissioner Jeff Travillion; in addition to representatives from Texas AFL-CIO, Communications Workers of America, the American Federation of Government Employees, American Federation of Teachers, UNITE-HERE, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.
During the President’s Austin visit, he is scheduled to tour Austin’s Apple manufacturing facility with the company’s CEO Tim Cook. In 2016 the president said on the campaign trail he would bring jobs back to the U.S. and get Apple to start making their products in the U.S. rather than in China. Since then, Apple has begun making more products in Austin with business tax cuts and increased taxes on imports from China.
Recently, Apple announced it will manufacture its new line of Mac Pro computers in Austin while many of the company’s other products are assembled in China. At the time, Apple said it can build its computer in Texas because it was given a federal product exclusion, so it can import certain parts without paying tariffs.
During the visit Wednesday, Trump and Cook are expected to speak with Apple employees about how products are assembled, labeled with “Made in the USA.”
What workers are saying
“Obviously we’re excited about the growth of Apple or any company that brings good-paying manufacturing jobs to this community,” said Rick Levy, the President of Texas AFL-CIO, a state labor federation hosting the roundtable. “What we think are trying to say is: that is not the whole story of this economy. And that a photo opp highlighting one corporate decision to bring jobs to this community doesn’t outweigh the massive damage and wreckage that’s occurring in other parts of this state and this country.”
AFL-CIO explained that they are not aligned with any political party, but that they are closely watching politicians to see who is making decisions that most help the workers they represent.
Workers like Sheria Smith, an employee of the U.S. Department of Education and a member of the American Federation of Government Employees-Department of Education Local 252, say that President Trump’s rhetoric about job creation has fallen flat for her.
“I don’t believe that the statement he’s creating jobs and making things better for workers is entirely consistent with what we are experiencing,” Smith said.
Specifically, she said that the Trump Administration has repudiated the collective bargaining rights of the U.S. Department of Education employees. She said those bargaining rights protect workers’ benefits like sick leave and flexible work schedules.
“It appears to be an effort to encourage people to leave federal employment and then replace those federal employees with contract employees who do not have those benefits and do not have the ability to serve the American public in the manner that paid professional staff would do,” Smith suggested.
Smith says she has many colleagues who have left federal employment to go back into the private sector recently and that their jobs have not been replaced.
“And that has left less services and less people to serve the American citizens,” she said. “So I have not seen a creation of jobs. I have seen a creation of an environment that makes people want to leave their jobs.”
Geronimo Guerra, an AT&T employee and a member of Communication Workers of America said he has seen his colleagues laid off and forced to uproot. Guerra’s union says that since the corporate tax cut went into effect in January 2018, AT&T has cut 33,779 jobs and that the company has been laying off American workers and “relying increasingly on a global web of low-wage contractors.” His union tells KXAN that in Texas, the most recent job cuts at AT&T were announced over the summer and affected about 500 workers.
“What I think about there is we’re looking at people who are going to be living a lifestyle that we have right now — making at least $15, $30 [an hour] right now — our jobs disappear to compete with people who are making $5 an hour overseas,” Guerra said.
Jonathan Murray, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (Local 520) who has 15 years under his belt of work as a journeyman electrician, said his industry has been negatively impacted by the President’s tax policies.
“A craftsman will travel from city to city, state to state to perform skilled qualified work,” Murray explained. “[The President’s] tax policies have put into question whether we can write off lodging, traveling, equipment, tools, and clothing that affect our industry.”
Sometimes, Murray said, losing out on those tax writeoffs may make some jobs unaffordable for journeymen.
“Because our jobs a lot of times as journeymen are temporary,” he said. “I’ll come to Austin and I’d love to build the Apple project, and then the next job will bring me to another area to possibly another Apple project. If I can’t afford to do that or if the tax policies hinder me in my ability to do that, it takes a lot of my choices away.”
“So when you talk about the sexy sectors like the tech sector and the automation industry, how those pay very well, it’s the craftsmen and workers and blue collars that put those things together, it’s the teachers that educate the people that are going to do those job,” Murray explained.
What Texas Democrats are saying
In addition to the workers present, Texas Democratic leaders shared the impacts they’ve felt from the Trump administration’s policies.
“We’re here today to talk not about Apple or Tim Cook,” said Austin Mayor Steve Adler. “We’re here to make sure we’re talking about how the President’s economic policies are failing Texas workers and workers around the country.”
Adler mentioned that local governments in Travis County have aimed to create jobs to take people out of poverty, but he believes that a lack of investment from federal in state governments in those programs means local job programs can’t reach as many people.
“Rather than supporting cities and counties that are working to help train workforces and get people opportunities, it appears as if our state and our federal government and this president have declared war on cities,” Adler said. “And so long as that is the mindset, we’re never going to be able to do right by the workers in our city in our state in our country.”
State lawmakers insinuated that Trump’s visit offers an opportunity to highlight the work Texas Democrats are doing to get more people in their party elected.
State Rep. John Bucy II of Williamson County didn’t mince words, saying, “Texas Democrats are committed to working past the failed Trump-Republican policies.” Bucy suggested that Democrats in Texas already have experience countering the type of politics President Trump advocates for.
“Texas has been run by Trump-style Republicans for many years,” he said.
In 2020, Bucy believes Texas Democrats, “are going to be organized and ready to fight back at the ballot box.”
“We are only nine seats away from flipping the Texas House,” said Texas State Rep. Gina Hinojosa.
“I’m not sure we have to do so much recruiting [of candidates] because the candidates are coming to us, ” Hinojosa said.
She also cited recent Census Bureau numbers which indicate that the income disparity is growing in Texas.
“And so, I think it is fitting that we are hearing from people who are experiencing the reality of the Texas economy today,” Hinojosa added.
At a separate interview on Wednesday, KXAN also spoke with Judge Jeff Moseley, CEO of the Texas Association of Business. Moseley seemed to see Wednesday’s event with President Trump as more of an opportunity to celebrate Texas’ economic successes.
“There’s one really good way to spell Trump and that’s putting jobs plus paychecks together — that equals Trump,” Moseley said. “We’re very pleased that this president is focused on trade and on investment and the fact that Apple is investing again in Texas is really big news.”
“We the voters have very clearly stated over and over — and I suspect we’ll say it again in this upcoming election — that it’s important for Congress to take care of our economy and that’s why we’re very very pleased that in Texas we have demonstrated low unemployment rate, and the economy of Texas has been robust,” Moseley continued.