A union body blow in what was once an organized-labor bastion

A critical loss for organized labor shows the economic angst of the Heartland is more complicated.

One of the tropes of the 2016 election was that the white working class felt slighted by globalization and voted heavily for the “populism” of Donald Trump. And perhaps that — instead of white-identity and culture-war issues — drove at least some. But in the Heartland, where Trumpism gained heavily, the messages are mixed.

Last month, employees at Fuyao Glass America in suburban Dayton, Ohio, voted by a wide margin to reject joining the United Auto Workers. The factory, which makes auto glass, is located in the shell of the former General Motors Moraine Assembly (and the reader should know I was the business editor at the Dayton Daily News from 1986-1990). The “no” vote represents a stunning turnaround for organized labor.

From 1951 to 1979, this factory made appliances for Frigidaire, a GM subsidiary. When the appliance manufacturing operation was shut down, the plant was saved by a collaboration among state and local government, GM, and the union. With big tax breaks and an adaptable local union, it was transformed into an auto assembly plant, turning out the popular small S-10 Blazer SUV. It was the only GM assembly represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, a holdover from Frigidaire days.

This is part of the Rust Belt story that’s rarely told: How the region reinvented itself after catastrophic losses in the late 1970s and early 1980. Dayton was no stranger to this: When NCR ended manufacturing of mechanical cash registers, it cost some 30,000 good local jobs and left a swath south of downtown empty as former factories were torn down. But often places were able to adapt, even with the headwinds of ’80s-style vulture capitalism.

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Moraine was one of the success stories. And the union was essential. Often its members had the…

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