Early Wednesday morning, David Breckheimer, a United Steelworkers local union president at a Neenah, Wis. paper factory, was gathering the last of his gear for a snowmobiling vacation.
At 7:45 a.m., less than two hours before he planned to leave, he got a call. It felt like a punch to the gut, he told me later that day.
Kimberly-Clark was closing its Cold Springs facility in Fox Crossing where David had worked 37 years, where 500 men and women earned a good living. Kimberly-Clark also was shuttering its Nonwovens factory in Neenah, costing another 100 workers their jobs.
The closures mean the virtual disappearance of Kimberly-Clark production in Neenah, the town along Lake Winnebago where the company was founded by John Kimberly and Charles Clark 146 years ago. It moved its corporate headquarters to Texas in 1985 .
The terminations are part of a life-shattering pattern in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley, where Neenah and other paper mill towns are located. Once dotted with dozens of paper plants providing good jobs and middle-class livelihoods, the valley had been devastated over the past decade and a half as paper companies failed or fled, one after another.
The rise of digital communications is partly to blame. But more significant is government policy. The corporate tax breaks that Congressional Republicans said would create jobs are being used by some, like Kimberly-Clark, to kill jobs. And the government’s failure to enforce international trade law bankrupted many of the Fox Valley plants as China plastered the U.S. market with underpriced, illegally subsidized paper.
The result is pain for blue-collar workers in blue states like Wisconsin that went red in 2016 to give Donald Trump the presidency. Workers who voted for Trump believed his promises to crack down on Chinese currency manipulation and impose 45 percent tariffs
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