INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Layoffs came in waves at Westin Automotive’s Minnesota plant as production
shifted to low-wage factories in Asia, ultimately pushing more than 200 U.S.
workers - many over age 50 - out of once-reliable jobs.
Despite the move a
decade ago, Westin remains a chief supplier of auto parts sold under a brand
trademarked by Indiana Senate candidate Mike Braun. Those ties put the
Republican in a delicate spot as President Donald Trump vilifies China and
other foreign competitors, riling up the GOP base.
Trump’s election in
2016 shifted the political dynamic for Republican business people like Braun
seeking public office. Many used to actively downplay the effects of
outsourcing or even embrace it, even as socially conservative blue-collar
workers in Indiana and other manufacturing-heavy states flocked to the
Wisconsin Sen. Ron
Johnson, who ran a plastics manufacturing company, proclaimed in 2014 that
outsourcing was “quite beneficial” to America. Georgia Sen. David Perdue,
who ran aggressively as a job creator, said he was “proud” to have spent
much of his career outsourcing. And GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney,
who invested in companies that offshored jobs, said his business record is
what qualified him for the presidency.
Braun, however, is
taking a different approach.
Until recently, the
multimillionaire ignored outsourcing questions related to his Promaxx parts
brand. Instead he ran ads stating his business empire was “made in America”
while attacking his Democratic rival, Sen. Joe Donnelly, for once owning
stock in a family business, run by Donnelly’s brother, that operates a
factory in Mexico and sources some goods from China.
campaign won’t say how much of his parts line is made abroad, spokesman Josh
Kelley acknowledged in an interview Thursday that Braun uses foreign-made
products to stay competitive.
suppliers that used to make 100 percent of their products here in the U.S.
and, thanks to unfair trade deals coming down from politicians in D.C.,
we’ve seen these jobs and products being forced overseas,” Kelley said.
justification they are unwilling to extend to Donnelly, who Braun accuses of
being complicit in sending “jobs to Mexico and China.”
Yet earlier this
month, the AP reported that much of Braun’s Promaxx brand is made in China.
since then show that Braun has a particularly close relationship with Westin
Automotive, which outsourced work formerly done at its St. James, Minnesota,
plant, to China and Taiwan between 2007 and 2008.
Braun has worked
with Westin since at least 2008, the same year he launched Promaxx. That
year, an auto parts distribution company he owns, Meyer Distributing,
featured Westin in its catalog.
Since then, Westin
- a major supplier of Promaxx-brand running boards, bumpers, brush guards
and truck racks - has received more than 700 shipments of the same kind of
products from China, including several shipments delivered directly to one
of Braun’s warehouses, records show.
They’ve also teamed
up to host jet ski and truck give-away competitions, while CEO Bob West has
given the $2,700 maximum contribution to Braun’s campaign, Federal Election
Commission records show.
Department of Labor found the laid-off workers in Minnesota - many of whom
did not have easily adapted skills - faced dire circumstances.
number of workers at the firm are age 50 or over and possess skills that are
not easily transferable,” a federal investigator concluded. “Competitive
conditions within the industry are adverse.”
running for office, particularly business people, have sometimes struggled
with outsourcing questions, it appeared that the GOP cracked the code this
year with Donnelly.
That came after it
was revealed that Donnelly, a longtime outsourcing critic, abruptly sold his
stock in the family company amid news reports on its Mexican factory.
hammered Donnelly and even hired a mariachi band to troll him at his
re-election kickoff. Then Braun surged in May’s GOP primary, beating Reps.
Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, muddying what had been a clean line of attack.
Kelley argued that
Braun’s business doesn’t actually make the parts sold under his brand,
whereas Donnelly’s brother’s company does.
“He could have
easily addressed (the factory) at the family dinner table with his brother,
but instead he waited until he was exposed by the press as a hypocrite,”
But as recently as
2015, Braun belonged to an economic development group that sought to
“increase the public’s understanding of the positive impact of global
In Indiana, the
issue has been particularly resonant.
During the 2016
campaign, Trump made the plight of Carrier Corp. factory workers in
Indianapolis a cause c