Robert Morrison, 64, hasn’t always been involved in politics.
The self-described introvert said he gets easily tongue-tied when he speaks, so he usually keeps to himself.
“I’ve always been led to believe if you work hard and you’re productive, you’ll get taken care of,” Morrison told Starting Line.
So, he never worried about much.
That all changed last year when he and 124 other factory workers in Burlington learned they’d soon be laid off. Their jobs would be shipped overseas.
He openly calls President Donald Trump a liar now.
“Trump said that no more good-paying jobs will be going overseas while he’s president,” Morrison said. “He lied.”
That inspired Morrison to tell his story to anyone who will listen. He’s been featured on local television stations in Burlington. He wrote an op-ed for the Guardian in 2018. More than 600,000 people have watched a Rebel HQ video workers at the old Siemens Factory are featured in called “Trump’s Christmas Layoffs.”
“I just won’t stop until the world knows our story,” Morrison said.
The Oldest Continuously-Operating Manufacturing Facility West Of The Mississippi
Siemens and its workers have been a staple of Burlington since 1870, when the factory opened under the name Murray Iron Works. What’s now known as Siemens was bought and sold several times throughout the years. The plant expanded to a new location in 1997, and then in 2005, the factory was sold to the Dresser-Rand Corporation.
Over the years, factory workers have made everything from hog butchering equipment to various metal products. When the factory shut down, workers were creating steam turbines.
Now the factory sits empty.
Morrison said the place has been gutted. Electricity and water are still connected to the facility so the lights and sprinklers will turn on in case of an emergency.
“It breaks my heart,” Morrison said of the empty building.
Morrison began working at the factory in 1981. He was laid off in 1982, and hired back on in 1987. He’s worked there ever since.
He remembers breaking his leg at the factory one night 25 years ago. Some of Morrison’s coworkers showed up to his house to mow his yard while he was off his feet. It quickly turned into a beer party, he added.
“We considered ourselves to be pretty close-knit,” Morrison said. “We were like family.”
It was only five years ago that Siemens bought the factory. Morrison remembers that, too.
“There were rumors they were going to close us down,” Morrison said. “Siemens came in and said they weren’t going to close us down. They said they never shut down another factory in the United States before.”
The Plant’s Closure
It was about ten in the morning on April 23, 2018 when Morrison and the rest of the day shift workers at the Siemens factory were called off the floor for a meeting.
The group knew something was off. Siemens sent HR officials from the plant in Mount Vernon, Indiana to the factory in Iowa.
“A lady from HR named Rachel must have drawn the short straw,” Morrison said. She was the one who announced the layoffs.
There was a gasp of disbelief. Everyone was told to punch out and go home.
“They knew we weren’t going to have our mind on the job,” Morrison said. “We got paid for the rest of the day, but we went home.”
The workers were eventually told the plant would close by the end of the year.
From then on, Morrison said it was “like digging your own grave and being told you’re not doing it fast enough.”
They soon started gutting the factory and hauling machines out. The machines Morrison operated were among the first to go. Then, Morrison got a notice that his last day of the factory would be Dec. 21, 2018.
“It wasn’t a very fun Christmas for a lot of people,” Morrison said.
The union was helpful throughout the process, Morrison said. They negotiated six months of pay and six months of medical insurance, although they fought for a full year of benefits. That’s what Morrison lived on until his social security kicked in.
Frustration With Iowa Officials
A few months ago, Morrison tried to get a hold of Governor Kim Reynolds to tell her about the closure and ask her to do something about it.
Last week, Reynolds was spotted at another Siemens factory, this time in Charlotte, North Carolina. She was there to tour it with Ivanka Trump.
“Touring Siemens Energy Hub in Charlotte w/ Ivanka Trump, Secretary Ross,” Reynolds’ account tweeted. “Getting a first hand glimpse into their apprenticeship programs. It’s a perfect opportunity to highlight what we are doing in IA as well as collaborate w/other stakeholders to take best practices back to IA,” she said of the tour.
Touring @Siemens Energy Hub in Charlotte w/@IvankaTrump, @SecretaryRoss getting a first hand glimpse into their apprenticeship programs. It’s a perfect opportunity to highlight what we are doing in IA as well as collaborate w/ other stakeholders to take best practices back to IA. pic.twitter.com/l2BWnDIvMU
— Gov. Kim Reynolds (@IAGovernor) June 18, 2019
“I was really upset with Governor Reynolds last Monday when she went to Charlotte,” Morrison said. “She wouldn’t come stand with us when our plant closed, but now — I’ll use this term— she’s frolicking with the enemy.”
“I called her last week and I said I feel kicked in the stomach again,” Morrison said.
Reynolds isn’t the only one Morrison is frustrated with.
He also sent a letter to the White House. The White House sent a response that said it seemed like a state or local matter.
So, Morrison reached out to Senator Chuck Grassley. He wasn’t much help, either.
“Grassley was first voted in in 1958, when I was three years old,” Morrison said. “For 61 years he has been doing nothing except making himself and his family richer. I used to think he was okay. This changed my opinion of him.”
Looking To 2020
Morrison said he’ll likely caucus for Bernie Sanders in 2020 since he’s been adopted into the group as a southeast Iowa labor consultant for Sanders.
But he’s watching a few other candidates as well.
“I like Tulsi Gabbard,” Morrison said. “I wonder how much of our tax dollars — how much of a percent — is going to fund the military and the military industrial complex.”
He said the country could have better used that money on infrastructure, education and clean drinking water.
Morrison wants to talk to Tim Ryan, too.
“He’s from Lordstown, Ohio where all the layoffs are,” Morrison said.
Hard Feelings Remain With Trump
Every time the president tweets, Morrison said he’s reminded of the lies he was told.
“Trump came to Burlington in October 2015. He said ‘I’ll be the greatest jobs president ever,'” Morrison said. “Every time he tweets about how good the economy is, I tell him Siemens closed our factories. We’ve been open since 1870. And he says nothing.”
“I don’t get it,” Morrison said. “I don’t understand why people still back him up.”
by Paige Godden
Photo by Elizabeth Meyer