Business record, rhetoric of Indiana candidate don’t line up
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Oklahoma truck driver Timothy Jackson was recovering from emergency heart surgery when he learned he’d lost his job — and his health insurance along with it — because managers at the company’s Indiana headquarters decided he wasn’t healthy enough to work.
The multimillionaire who owns that business and several others, former Indiana state Rep. Mike Braun, is locked in a bitter Republican primary with two congressmen for the right to challenge Democrat Joe Donnelly in one of the nation’s most closely watched Senate races.
Braun has blamed “career politicians” for outsourcing good-paying jobs overseas, while pledging he’ll help bring them back. Yet when it comes to his own business empire, which includes a handful of interrelated companies, Braun’s record falls far short of his campaign rhetoric, a review by The Associated Press found.
Meyer Distributing, a Jasper-based national auto parts distribution company Braun owns, does brisk business importing goods from the same overseas countries he has criticized for taking American jobs. He also has accepted government subsidies, despite criticizing the practice.
And lawsuits filed against his companies — backed up by federal trucking and labor records — present a picture of a boss who has overworked and underpaid employees.
That could blunt charges of hypocrisy Braun has leveled against Donnelly, a longtime outsourcing critic who sold stock in a family business after the AP reported the company owned a factory in Mexico. It also opens him up to similar charges from his GOP opponents in the May 8 primary, Luke Messer and Todd Rokita, whom he has accused of saying one thing on the campaign trail only to “do something else when you get to D.C.”
Campaign spokesman Josh Kelley said Braun tries to distribute American-made goods but faces profitability challenges in a global economy. He also denied that workers are treated poorly.
However, over the past decade, workers have sued in West Virginia, Oklahoma and California, alleging they were forced to work long hours in unsafe conditions and denied overtime pay, meal times and breaks.
In March 2016, Jackson, the Oklahoma truck driver, was recovering at home from emergency surgery to fix a heart defect when his local manager hand-delivered a letter informing him that he had been fired. Jackson’s boss told him it “was not up to him” — a detail confirmed in a company court filing that acknowledged Jackson was fired because managers doubted he could do his job.
Braun often touts his companies’ heath care coverage, which he re-engineered to reduce costs by requiring that employees pay more upfront. He says it provides “better coverage” while being “less paternalistic.”
Another Oklahoma employee alleged in 2009 that withheld overtime was paid only after he filed a formal complaint. The employee said he was fired days later in retaliation, according to court records. He settled out of court.
In 2014, a West Virginia driver alleged he was forced to falsify log books to conceal time spent on the road that exceeded federal regulations that limit driving time to 11 hours per day. The employee says he was fired after he refused to keep up a schedule that “demanded 16 to 18 hour days,” according to court records. That lawsuit also was settled out of court.
Federal Department of Transportation records show Braun’s operation has been cited 55 times since September 2015 for unsafe driving violations and 41 times for truck driver “hours of service” violations. Additionally, Meyer was cited 26 times for wage and overtime pay violations between 2008 and 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
His campaign says Meyer’s safety rating is better than the industry average.
Braun, whose net worth is somewhere between $37 million and $95 million, has often compared himself to President Donald Trump because both grew wealthy in the private sector before entering politics.
“Candidates who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director of the liberal-leaning good government group Common Cause Indiana. “I’m always concerned when candidates talk about wanting to run government like business because people who are extremely successful in business sometimes get there by cutting corners and treating employees unfairly.”
While Braun has used his wealth to run a blitz of ads criticizing politicians for putting “Mexico before Muncie” and “Beijing before Bloomington,” he hasn’t always been a critic of free trade and outsourcing.
As a state legislator, he voted in 2016 against bipartisan “clawback” legislation that would have allowed Indiana governments to recoup financial incentives given to companies that move jobs abroad. The legislation was proposed in the wake of Carrier Corp. announcing that it was moving hundreds of manufacturing jobs from Indianapolis to Mexico.
Dozens of foreign or foreign-owned auto parts companies do business with Braun, according to Meyer Distributing’s website. The company has received repeated shipments of foreign made goods over the past five years, most of which are from China, according to records maintained by the trade tracking website Import Genius.
During a February debate, however, he denied knowing where the parts he sells come from.
“I deal with American manufacturers. We buy their products. I don’t know where they get them made,” Braun said.
Recently Braun criticized online shopping giant Amazon, which has named Indianapolis as a potential site for a second corporate headquarters. At a campaign event, Braun said he is not in favor of granting incentives in such situations, suggesting companies “shouldn’t be subsidized by the government.”
Braun, however, pursued similar job creation incentives over the last six years, which are set to pay out at least $2 million, records show.
Kelley, the campaign’s spokesman, said Braun would stand up for workers should he be elected.
“Mike will be a voice for the little guy, and will show the same commitment to Hoosiers that he’s demonstrated to employees at Meyer over the last 35 years,” Kelley said.