Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series highlighting the local impact of Trump’s policies in key counties in MI, PA, WI, and FL.
Three companies with operations in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, laid off hundreds of workers since the start of 2018, sending jobs out of the country and closing plants while paying their CEOs multimillion-dollar salaries.
An analysis by the American Ledger shows that the tax cuts passed by the then-Republican Congress and signed by Trump in 2017 gave executives a boost but squeezed middle-class workers in this county, centered around Wilkes-Barre in the Pocono Mountains.
As those executives enjoyed the largest tax cut out of the Republican plan President Donald Trump signed into law in 2017, some of their employees were being forced to train their overseas replacements.
The disparity between the fortunes of white and blue-collar workers in places like Luzerne County could play a significant role in Trump’s re-election bid next year.
Trump won Pennsylvania — and its crucial 20 electoral votes — in 2016 in part by flipping Luzerne County, which he won by nearly 20 percent, becoming the first Republican to win there since 1988, when then-Vice President George Bush edged out Democrat Michael Dukakis by 0.4 percent.
To win a second term, Trump will likely need the support of some of the 500-plus workers — and their families — who found themselves out of jobs on his watch.
In August, 83 employees at Lord & Taylor’s call center in Wilkes-Barre were laid off after they trained their counterparts in Canada, Costa Rica, and the Philippines, according to a Labor Department filing.
Months earlier, the department store’s Canadian parent company, Hudson’s Bay Co., announced its CEO would get $54.8 million that year, despite losing $400 million in the first quarter.
In another case, the Omaha, Nebraska-based manufacturer Valmont Industries Inc. closed a steel-pole plant in Hazleton that employed 180 people in February.
Last year, Valmont’s revenue went up but its income tax expenses decreased by nearly 60 percent, freeing up the company to return nearly $150 million to shareholders through stock buybacks and dividends, which the company announced the same month it shuttered the plant. Valmont’s CEO Stephen G. Kaniewski was paid $4,428,908 in 2018.
In March 2018, the Sussex, Wis.-based marketing firm Quad Graphics Inc. announced 165 layoffs near Hazleton, with none of the affected workers offered positions elsewhere in the company.
Workers at the facility claimed in a federal filing that their jobs were sent to Mexico.
Despite the belt-tightening across the local labor market, the CEOs of all three companies saw enormous take-home pay in 2018, placing them well within the top 1 percent of U.S. taxpayers, which received more than 20 percent of the benefits from the 2017 tax law.
Meanwhile, the bottom 40 percent of taxpayers — those making less than $49,000, like many of the Luzerne County workers who were laid off in recent months — got just 6.2 percent of the benefits.
Last August, Trump held a campaign rally in Wilkes-Barre, where he said, “Factories are pouring back into our country.”
But that isn’t the case for many workers there, and next year, Trump will find out if his voters pour back into the voting booth.