Employees Say Foxconn & Donald Trump's Wisconsin Factory Scam Was An Absurdist Hellscape

from the empty-promises dept

You might recall how the Wisconsin GOP, with Donald Trump and Paul Ryan at the head of the parade, struck what they claimed was an incredible deal with Foxconn to bring thousands of high-paying jobs to the state. Initially, the state promised Foxconn a $3 billion subsidy if the company invested $10 billion in a Wisconsin LCD panel plant that created 13,000 jobs. The amount of political hype the deal generated was utterly legendary, helping market Trump as a savvy dealmaker who'd be restoring technological greatness to the American Midwest.

Of course experts repeatedly warned that the deal was too good to be true, and likely would never recoup the taxpayer cost as structured. Those warnings were ignored. And unsurprisingly, as the subsidy grew fatter, the promised factory began to shrink further and further, to the point where it's incredibly unlikely much of anything will be built at all. All now cold comfort to taxpayers who have already doled out a small fortune, or the local residents who had to move thanks to a factory that will likely never exist.

Last week, reports emerged that Wisconsin finally appears to be waking up to the scam, and would finally be blocking any more taxpayer subsidies from lining the company's pockets. This week, The Verge (which has done a phenomenal job tracking this bottomless grift from the get-go) penned a great breakdown of the scam, which Trump initially called "the eighth wonder of the world." Ultimately the project isn't much of a project, much less a wonder of any real note:

"The renovations never arrived. Neither did the factory, the tech campus, nor the thousands of jobs. Interviews with 19 employees and dozens of others involved with the project, as well as thousands of pages of public documents, reveal a project that has defaulted on almost every promise. The building Foxconn calls an LCD factory — about 1/20th the size of the original plan — is little more than an empty shell. In September, Foxconn received a permit to change its intended use from manufacturing to storage."

Great, cool. Of course doling out billions in taxpayer subsidies to giant corporations in exchange for fluff and nonsense (then pretending to be really concerned about balancing the budget) is kind of an American tradition. Just ask the telecom sector, which routinely gets a massive fortune in tax breaks and subsidies in exchange for jobs and broadband investment that repeatedly, almost-comically, never actually arrives. Promising the Earth, sea and sky in exchange for bupkis is kind of a national pastime at this point. That's certainly the case in Wisconsin, where any meaningful employment was largely theatrical in nature:

"Even the handful of jobs the company claims to have created are less than real: many of them held by people with nothing to do, hired so the company could reach the number required for it to get tax subsidy payments from Wisconsin. Foxconn failed at that objective, too: last week, Wisconsin rejected the company’s subsidy application and found it had employed only 281 people eligible under the contract at the end of 2019. Many have since been laid off."

Effectively, the company hired just enough people to pretend to be hitting benchmarks. But with the whole thing effectively being a head fake, the few folks who were hired got to experience something that feels more at home in a Kafka-esque satirical comedy than actual reality:

"Soon, the office began to fill with people who had nothing to do. Many just sat in their cubicles watching Netflix and playing games on their phones. The reality of their situation became impossible to ignore. Multiple employees recall seeing people cry in the office. “The best is when you’re in the elevator with somebody and then they just scream out of nowhere,” said an employee who experienced this several times. “They’ve had enough, because things don’t make sense here."

The whole thing is really worth reading, processing, and truly understanding on the off chance we might learn something. A year or so ago, the company routinely became indignant at the mere hint by The Verge that the deal was a farcical dud. Now the company won't even offer a comment to the website's inquiries. Meanwhile, taxpayers have doled out $400 million on land, equipment, and infrastructure that will never actually be needed. Numerous Wisconsinites were forced from their homes using eminent domain, and watched as their homes were subsequently bulldozed as part of a con they had to pay for.

You know, just another day in America.

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Filed Under: boondoggle, donald trump, paul ryan, scott walker, wisconsin
Companies: foxconn


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  • icon
    Koby (profile), 20 Oct 2020 @ 6:50am

    Numerous Wisconsinites were forced from their homes using eminent domain, and watched as their homes were subsequently bulldozed as part of a con they had to pay for.

    After the terrible 2005 Kelo v New London court decision, a number of states passed legislation in response in order to block the supreme court case from their jurisdiction. I believe Wisconsin was one of those states. I would be interested in knowing how they pushed through the eminent domain seizure, because without it, then the scam couldn't have continued.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2020 @ 9:44am

      Re:

      "because without it, then the scam couldn't have continued.

      I find your lack of faith disturbing.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 21 Oct 2020 @ 1:39am

      Re:

      "I would be interested in knowing how they pushed through the eminent domain seizure, because without it, then the scam couldn't have continued."

      You need to go google "steeplechase park" and "Trump towers". You know how it's easier to ask forgiveness than obtain permission? Well, the Trump family has a long history of "moving right along" rather than saying they're sorry for beginning demolishing or building without receiving the proper permission. Given their history it's almost impossible Trump didn't already know exactly how this would pan out while he was pushing Wisconsin to accommodate Foxconn. And if the state says "eminent domain" what homeowner is going to dispute? Particularly so if trying to drag their feet only means their house still gets bulldozed, probably while they're trying to file their objection.

      I'm not surprised to see Foxconn run a massive grift job in typical Trump style, to be fair. They're neither the first nor the tenth shady outfit to hitch their latest scam to the Trump bandwagon.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 20 Oct 2020 @ 6:54am

    Can't OSHA protect the workers?

    In China, Foxconn puts suicide nets around the building exterior to protect workers from committing suicide. Can't OSHA require Foxconn to take similar measures in the US?

    Couldn't randomly screaming workers be isolated to a separate work area and tied down? Possibly sedated (at worker's expense).

    If workers are sitting around bored because they have been given no work to do, then couldn't the company help by cutting off their WiFi to prevent them from watching Netflix on company time? Or alternately force them to use Comcast?

    Surely we can do better here in the US.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 20 Oct 2020 @ 6:55am

    Ah yes.

    The building Foxconn calls an LCD factory — about 1/20th the size of the original plan — is little more than an empty shell. In September, Foxconn received a permit to change its intended use from manufacturing to storage.

    "Storage". They are probably going to use it as a waste dump for LCDs (in order to meet the original specs somehow) and finally declare bankruptcy with the state on the line for cleaning up the toxic waste.

    And then we get to hear about how it's all Obama's fault.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bloof (profile), 20 Oct 2020 @ 7:01am

    The republican economic lie in action, throw taxpayer money at private businesses to create the illusion of growth while slashing and burning the social safety net to pretend to balance the books. Pay no attention to the poverty, pay no attention to the way the house of cards collapses every decade, just look at the shiny number now!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 20 Oct 2020 @ 7:06am

    "Multiple employees recall seeing people cry in the office. “The best is when you’re in the elevator with somebody and then they just scream out of nowhere...

    Numerous Wisconsinites were forced from their homes using eminent domain, and watched as their homes were subsequently bulldozed as part of a con they had to pay for."

    So, not only have they scammed a huge amount of money, they've destroyed peoples' homes and lives and inflicted long-term psychological damage on the people who did manage to find temporary work there. I'm sure that's been made so much easier to cope with by this year's events...

    "You know, just another day in America."

    Yet, I bet this will all be China's fault... and Biden's, somehow. Certainly not the great dealmaker who boasted about how great he was at getting the deal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 20 Oct 2020 @ 8:38am

      Re:

      Yet, I bet this will all be China's fault... and Biden's, somehow. Certainly not the great dealmaker who boasted about how great he was at getting the deal.

      Clearly it's Obama's fault. Don't mention that Biden terrorist who tried usurping the rigged election until Trump's army took care of him.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 21 Oct 2020 @ 1:41am

      Re:

      "Yet, I bet this will all be China's fault... and Biden's, somehow. Certainly not the great dealmaker who boasted about how great he was at getting the deal."

      I find it pretty telling that for Trump this was probably a sentimental jaunt back to his early days when he and his dad were pulling similar stunts all the time. Steeplechase springs to mind.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jimb (profile), 20 Oct 2020 @ 7:15am

    but don't call it "socialism"

    Corporate welfare is 'the American way'. The Best Government Money Can Buy has come through once again for their masters... I've often thought, when I read about the games corporations play, setting city against city, county and state against others - all bidding tax subsidies, free land, and outright payments to "create jobs" - that we would all be better off if we just gave the money to unemployed people.

    If a state is going to spend $3 Billion on subsidies to a major international corporation, "to create 13,000 jobs" - let's instead just give each of those 13,000 people $230,000 and see what they can do with it. Or maybe $200,000 even, each, and a year's training in business creation and money management. Almost all of these taxpayer giveaways (Amazon, I'm looking at you!) are to corporations that hardly need the money, and most over-promise the "jobs created" and the tax payback, and heavily under-deliver. It is all a scam, so of course Trump is right in the middle of it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2020 @ 8:21am

    This sounds like something that should get a lot more news coverage, especially during an election. This is the first I even heard of this and I usually keep up with the news...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2020 @ 9:29am

    how was it obvious it wasn't a scam from the get go?

    When this was announced, I remember thinking it wasn't going to happen. Foxconn manufactures in China because its native Taiwan is too expensive. How are they going to make stuff in the US?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    united9198 (profile), 20 Oct 2020 @ 9:32am

    This is sloppy work

    The more I read about the Foxconn deal from biased reporters, the more I distrust everything I read. First of all, it was the Governor (Scott Walker) and his economic development agency who initiated this deal and made the agreement. Had it worked, it would have been a home run, but in the changing sands of high-tech, it was perhaps inevitable that it would fail. Trump and Ryan were eye candy in this deal, but I get the reasons for wanting to hang it on them. Taxpayers have paid ZERO of the incentive because parameters were not met. A couple hundred million was spent on site development and construction in a booming area and the odds that it will end up working are pretty good. The obituary on the Foxconn deal was written on day 1 and has been used continually as a hammer to pound on Trump, Ryan and Walker. In fact, it helped push Walker out of office in favor of a guy who is soon to be recalled based on incompetence. Give this story another year and it will look a lot different, but we won't hear apologies from Bode or any of the other ill-informed parrots.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Oct 2020 @ 5:33pm

      Re: This is sloppy work

      Yeah, one more year!

      lol, sucker.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 20 Oct 2020 @ 7:46pm

      Re: This is sloppy work

      You know, you could have just admitted that you didn't bother to read the article, no need to throw together a wall of text to make that clear when a single sentence would have done the trick.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        united9198 (profile), 21 Oct 2020 @ 6:41am

        Re: Re: This is sloppy work

        I think I know a tad more about this deal than you do so maybe you should have read my comments.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 22 Oct 2020 @ 6:19pm

          Re: Re: Re: This is sloppy work

          I did, I also read the article, you know the one talking about how Foxconn went from promising this amazing factory to asking it to be reclassified as storage, bulldozed people's houses and 'hired' people simply so they could meet the headcount requirements for the subsidies(which they failed at), 'employees' that suffered mental breakdowns from realizing that their 'job' was a scam, and just so much other terrible stuff?

          Given the above you'll forgive me if I find your 'just give it a year and it'll be amazing' laughably bad as arguments go, as that strikes me as just as convincing as a Foxconn PR job, and it's pretty easy to see how well those stand up to scrutiny.

          As an aside I love how you tried to brush off $400 million in taxpayer money as no biggie since it wasn't billions, as though that sort of money just falls from the sky to be picked up, but not nearly as much as your attempt to distance Trump from that trainwreck given he was and still is very much involved with it, from being part of the groundbreaking ceremony for what he called 'the eighth wonder of the world', boasting about how he was able to 'convince' Foxconn to build an LCD factory after they'd dumped the idea(“Great news on Foxconn in Wisconsin after my conversation with Terry Gou!”) and praising them on local tv a whopping five days ago for building “one of the most incredible plants I’ve ever seen” and hyping the debacle with claims such as “If we win the election, Foxconn is going to come into our country with money like no other company has come into our country.”

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    SandraB (profile), 20 Oct 2020 @ 10:22am

    Interesting thoughts

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 20 Oct 2020 @ 12:30pm

    Would love to..

    Ask the other countries to match USA pollution laws, Adjust wages to a comparable level as WE would pay our own employees.
    Then ask the USA corps what they want to do.

    No matter what you do with a tariff it comes back to the consumer. And the only reason for a tariff was to over price imported goods that compared/were equal to USA products. But we dont make many things anymore. Esp consumer based products.
    And even if we did make them, most of the needed Parts tend to NOT be made in the USA, we end up Just putting things together with other nations parts.
    And the people they hire to put things together are fast at small parts, mostly screws and nuts, the rest is automated.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2020 @ 8:31am

    Fox-con

    Company name checks out.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Dan Neely (profile), 21 Oct 2020 @ 8:50am

    More like a charlie foxtrot of a con.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    united9198 (profile), 21 Oct 2020 @ 5:04pm

    Censoring Comments

    I doubt this will see light of day because it looks like TechDirt has the ability to filter out anything they don't like. I made a valid comment and a couple commenters were able to take a swipe at me, but TechDirt does not run my reply. Nice.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 21 Oct 2020 @ 6:23pm

      Or, you know, you did it wrong

      One need only look at the comments that do make it through(As the 'Handling Trolls that Invade a Community' article's comment section demonstrate nicely) to know that no, TD staff do not just remove comments that they 'don't like'(as far as I'm aware after being on TD for years they remove spam and basically nothing else), so if your comments didn't show odds are good that either the site had a hiccup that no-one else seemed to notice, it got caught by the spam filter for some reason(adding in links will often cause that, using a TOR browser will definitely cause it as two examples) and will need to be manually cleared by said staff which can take a bit at times, or you did something wrong.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 Oct 2020 @ 10:37pm

      Re: Censoring Comments

      I doubt this will see light of day

      Oh wait, it did. I guess you lied?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 21 Oct 2020 @ 11:36pm

      Re: Censoring Comments

      "TechDirt has the ability to filter out anything they don't like."

      It's called a spam filter. Which catches most people at some point, but serves as a way to laugh at the idiots who think they're being personally prosecuted when the comments they whine about being censored are manually approved a little while later. The rest of us shrug our shoulders at the spam filter warning and return an hour or so later to read the replies to our now visible comments.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 22 Oct 2020 @ 12:42am

      Re: Censoring Comments

      "...but TechDirt does not run my reply. Nice."

      I think everyone's run into the spam filter a few times. All url links, all uses of the "at" symbol, certain words or possibly combinations thereof...for all I know, even posting frequence over time.

      It happens to me quite a few times and it usually takes about a day for TD moderators to review it and let the comment through. This is how moderations is usually handled on sites which have no other filtering mechanism to keep the trolls out.

      But I guess what most people just accept as an annoyance hitting everyone equally is to some people just evidence of persecution. Usually republicans and the Very Fine People from the alt-right though.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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