As More Unions Endorse Hillary Clinton, Members Are Still Attracted To Donald Trump's Trade Message Donald Trump's message on trade — and bringing jobs back home — is resonating with a lot of union workers, even longtime Democrats.

Stuck Between Clinton And Trump: Rust Belt Union Voters Face A Tough Choice

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Donald Trump could have a shot at winning industrial states like Ohio and Pennsylvania if he's able to bump up his support among white working-class voters compared to what Mitt Romney got four years ago. Our colleague Don Gonyea has been in Ohio where Trump's message that trade deals are hurting American workers has been resonating even with union workers, longtime Democrats. And Don is here to talk about this. Morning, Don.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So who'd you talk to, and where'd you go?

GONYEA: So I started off at one of those classic, old brick union halls, the United Steelworkers Local 1123 in Canton, Ohio. It was their regular monthly meeting, lots of the usual union business and talks, certainly, about mobilizing for the coming election.

GREENE: You've been to places like this many times in your career.

GONYEA: Absolutely, lots over the years. And they're great places to talk to people. And I want to share some of the conversations I had.

The first person I talked to was 55-year-old Cathy Mottice. She's worked in the steel plants for 18 years. These days, she says, layoffs are way too frequent. And I asked her about Donald Trump's push for blue-collar votes. She had a really short answer.

CATHY MOTTICE: Don't vote for him. Don't vote Trump.

GONYEA: So I pushed her to tell me a little bit more.

MOTTICE: To me, he's so fake. He is saying whatever you want to hear. I just don't think he's honest. You know, that's my opinion.

GONYEA: Mottice is the kind of voter that Democrats count on in Ohio and that Hillary Clinton needs if she's to carry this state. But then I talked Barry Allison. He's a crane operator at the same plant. And I asked about his vote in the general election.

BARRY ALLISON: I'm not sure yet - not sure. My main concern is with Hillary Clinton - right? I don't know if I trust her. And with the Benghazi thing, I just - I don't know. I mean, you got her or Trump. I mean, it's - I don't think there's much of a choice.

GREENE: Don, that voice there - I feel like both you and I have both been hearing a lot of that, just not satisfied with the choices out there.

GONYEA: Right. But here is where the issue of trade comes in in this part of the country. And Barry Allison - yes, he's undecided - but he does like the way Trump talks about trade issues. So, you know, both Clinton and Trump oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, TPP. But Allison says he has more confidence in Trump when it comes to trade. So he was sitting right next to another steelworker I want to introduce you to. Trisha Hostetler has 20 years in the plant. And she jumped right in. She interrupted, actually, with this about Trump.

TRISHA HOSTETLER: If he's openly being so brazen against the Mexicans, against the women, what will he be like when he has full power of the presidency?

GONYEA: She warned that Trump is not labor's friend. And give a listen to this exchange between the two of them.

HOSTETLER: I mean, come on, he's been against the unions in Vegas. I mean, his actions are not friendly to labor.

ALLISON: I don't know. It's tough. It's too tough right now. Then people say Trump's created thousands of jobs. Hillary's never created a single job. It's (laughter), like, OK. click okay.

GREENE: So those voices, Don, I mean, these are the kinds of voters the Democratic Party is just really hoping will just vote Democratic, period.

GONYEA: Right. And they're both Democrats. And both said they wish they could vote for Bernie Sanders. Both of them voted for President Obama twice. And this time, neither of them is ready to commit.

GREENE: Well, that's interesting. I mean, is that something you were hearing, you know, across the state?

GONYEA: I did find people who were ready to commit, even though there are a lot of people just kind of torn like that. I went to Warren, Ohio. It's another once-booming steel town. It's also seen big job losses. And there, I met with retired steelworker Joe Shrodek. He took a buyout a decade ago after 34 years in the mills. Listen for a minute when he took me to where he used to work.

So tell me where we are. Tell me what we're looking at.

JOE SHRODEK: Well, this used to be the main gate. And there was - when I started here, there was 10,000 people that worked here.

GONYEA: So we were standing there looking beyond this chain-link fence to this big, open field, this huge field where the plant used to be. Trucks were still rumbling by on the road. But they're all heading somewhere else now. And Shrodek told me that he has seen his hometown become a classic, sad Rust Belt story. And he said it's not going to return to its former glory. Also, Shrodek is a lifelong Democrat. He has never voted for a Republican - until Donald Trump.

Is the way Trump talks about trade and he - like, he calls them crooked trade deals. And he's - is that a big chunk of the appeal here?

SHRODEK: He's 100 percent right. He's 100 percent right on that.

GONYEA: But you acknowledge he's not going to fix this.

SHRODEK: No. No. How can he?

GONYEA: So what's he going to accomplish?

SHRODEK: If he accomplishes 10 percent of what he says he's going to do, that's 10 percent more than anybody else is going to do.

GREENE: Don, you know, yesterday the United Steelworkers - they endorsed Hillary Clinton. But then I listen to a voice like that from Joe Shrodek. I mean, is there a disconnect?

GONYEA: That the task the union has. They don't want Trump to get elected. But Trump's best path to victory is through states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and Michigan by appealing to workers just like these. So back in that union hall in Canton, I also talked to AFL-CIO official Kathleen Kelly-Calcei. She works on elections and mobilization. She acknowledged the concerns some of their members have and that this is going to be a tough battle heading into November.

KATHLEEN KELLY-CALCEI: People are frustrated. And they're looking for somebody to blame. And he's giving them somebody to blame. But I think we need to be very careful when somebody does that.

GONYEA: They'll be doing lots of outreach to members, lots of conversations on the shop floor, phone calls, door-knocking. But union leaders, David, are very aware of the task ahead over the next five months.

GREENE: NPR's Don Gonyea. Thanks, Don.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

Copyright © 2016 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.