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Union leaders vow to fight for workers despite 'adversarial climate'

Former USW 1999 President Chuck Jones addresses the Northern Indiana Area Labor Federation's 2017 Community Labor Awards reception at Wicker Park.

Local labor union leaders vowed to continue to fight in hostile conditions for jobs and good wages at the Northern Indiana Area Labor Federation's 2017 Community Labor Awards Reception at Wicker Park in Highland.

The AFL-CIO affiliate gave Boilermakers Local 374's Guy "Buzz" Seydel and Roofers Local's Russ Gluth its George Meany Awards, Whiting Mayor Joe Stahura its Community Service Award, state Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, its Service to Labor Award, IBEW 697 Business Manager Dan Waldrop its Union Labor Award, Teamsters Local 142's Larry Regan its Commitment Award and retired USW 1999 president Chuck Jones its President's Award.

"We've got a tough job," Waldrop said. "I was told when I came in we have so few victories, we have to celebrate our wins or we'll go insane. Downstate, it's like paddling a canoe in whitewaters. You can't develop a plan because of all the rocks and obstacles. We have an adversarial climate in Washington and the statehouse. It's an empty feeling to be the odd man out. We're on the outside looking in, and it's aggravating how arrogant and aloof they are to working Hoosiers. They just don't get it."

Lawson, who recalled fond memories of spending time with her dad during strikes and cooking hot dogs over 55-gallon oil drums, encouraged local unions to organize after a rough patch that's included new laws like right-to-work.

"Over the last five years, not a lot of good things have happened for labor in Indiana," she said. "Go out there and bring a lot of people into unions. Bring people into unions."

A roomful of union workers heard from several speakers, including Jones, from Indianapolis, who garnered national media attention after publicly challenging President Donald Trump for misrepresenting the jobs Carrier outsourced to Mexico. Trump struck a deal to keep 800 factory jobs in Indianapolis, but Carrier will still outsource 550 jobs in Indianapolis and another 730 in Huntington to Mexico.

Jones said it was a great disappointment to his union members, who believed all their jobs had been saved from what they heard from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence at the press conference.

"As I told the Washington Post, it was a dog and pony show," he said. "If you're old like me, you know that's when a horse runs around with a dog on its back. That's a dog and pony show."

Jones said the company will save an estimated $65 million in wages by moving to Mexico, but potentially jeopardized $6 billion in military contracts. He said Trump had the leverage to negotiate a better deal to save more of the jobs and that he didn't have a high opinion of him after 1,280 Carrier jobs were still shipped overseas.

"For whatever it's worth Trump does have small hands and small fingers," he said, getting a huge laugh from the crowd. "And he's orange. I was in the third row. I was close enough to see his hands."

Speakers, including former Lt. Gov. candidate and Region native Christine Hale, encouraged the union members to be politically active.

"Women, this is our time," Hale said. "We've got momentum like we've never had before."


Business reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.