INDIANAPOLIS, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Duane Oreskowic was speechless when he learned last week that his job would be one of 1,400 lost when his employer, Carrier Corp, moved production to Mexico. But he has found his voice again since learning that Bernie Sanders is interested in his plight.
"I am a big-time Sanders fan and I hope he can help us," said the 37-year-old assembly specialist. "But even if he can't, maybe we can stop this happening to other American workers."
The Feb. 9 announcement by United Technologies Corp's Carrier unit that it would shift production to Mexico from Indianapolis has thrust the long-term trend of U.S. manufacturing job decline to the foreground of the nation's election year agenda.
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump seized on the announcement to amplify his position that companies such as Carrier should be taxed if they send jobs to low wage countries.
Democratic candidate Sanders called Carrier, a maker of air conditioners, an "example of how NAFTA and other trade policies have been a disaster for American workers." The 2016 U.S. presidential election is in November.
Communities around Indianapolis have witnessed a steady outflow of factory jobs over the past two decades. What made this action different was a YouTube video of the workers getting the news that by Thursday afternoon had more than 3.4 million views, and the political reaction to it.
"I came here 30 years ago looking for the American dream," said Hatice Lancaster, 51, originally from Turkey. "Maybe I should have gone to Mexico instead."
Chuck Jones, president of United Steelworkers Local 1999, which represents the Carrier workers, said he hopes to use the attention to force Carrier to reverse its decision.
Jones faces a steep climb. Carrier has told the union it can pay Mexican workers $3 an hour versus more than $20 on average in Indianapolis. A spokeswoman for Carrier said the company pays a "competitive wage" based on local conditions and could not discuss pay levels.
Since 1998, the chain-smoking, plain-spoken and profane Jones has watched the number of factories represented by his local dwindle to 12 from 38. He and his staff can rattle off the names of plants that have closed.
"We didn't ask for this fight," Jones said. "But we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere."
Jones is now giving interviews to anyone who asks - he was interrupted by multiple phone calls seeking comment while talking to Reuters - in the hope "this time America will pay attention and do something about rampant corporate greed."
Jones is grateful that Trump has drawn public attention to Carrier, but he sees Sanders "as a champion for our cause." Jones said he has been contacted by the Sanders campaign. A member of the Sanders campaign said the Vermont senator's team would be in touch with Jones.
Some Carrier workers interviewed outside the plant said they are drawn to Trump.
Brian Easton, 45, said he and his wife work for Carrier, and are now coming to terms with what he said is likely to be a permanent drop in their living standard.
"This country is run by Corporate America and we need someone in office like Donald Trump who is not beholden to anyone," Easton said. "I don't think he can save our jobs, but if we draw attention to this perhaps other workers won't have to go through this."