It seems like these days you can’t throw a rock without hitting a vacant manufacturing facility in Wisconsin. For generations, manufacturing jobs kept money in the wallets and food on the tables of working families across the state. But in recent years that legacy has been threatened. Offshoring, a lack of government investment and weak procurement policies to ensure we’re using American materials to build up our infrastructure have been chipping away at our state’s economy and at the very livelihoods of blue collar Wisconsinites in communities from Milwaukee to La Crosse.
Last month, President Biden unveiled his American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion investment in the nation’s infrastructure, manufacturing and in building the clean economy. That kind of investment is historic — and much needed. As leaders of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council and Wisconsin Conservation Voters, we applaud the president for recognizing the interconnected nature of the climate crises, income inequality and racial injustice and taking strides to address all three crises simultaneously. This plan is built on the idea that in fighting the threat of the climate crisis, we have before us an opportunity to rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, power our nation with clean energy, right the wrongs of environmental injustice and create new career pathways
We know all too well here in Wisconsin just how bad the state of our infrastructure has gotten. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave our state’s infrastructure a “C” grade in its most recent report card, putting us just a half step above the national grade of “C-.” The investments in the American Jobs Plan not only mean more modern and sustainable roads, bridges, schools and water systems for Wisconsin, but if done right, the plan will mean a reinvigorated manufacturing sector for the state. By making sure that the parts and materials being used in this massive infrastructure investment are made in America we can drive demand for American manufacturing and put workers back in those vacant facilities dotting the state.
Additionally, the investments in the clean economy proposed by the plan present a huge opportunity for growing jobs in Wisconsin. But it is crucial that steps are taken to ensure that those jobs are high-quality union jobs. Currently, not enough of the jobs being created in the clean energy sector fit that description. When compared to other energy sector jobs, we see a gap in union density and wages. It’s no surprise that highly unionized installation, maintenance and repair workers in the coal mining industry make a median annual wage of roughly $60,000 a year and fossil fuel utilities workers earn over $82,000 a year, while solar PV installers with a 4% unionization rate make a median annual wage of less than $45,000. That is unacceptable and must be addressed.
Wisconsin served as a key site in the birth of the labor movement. Union roots run deep in this state. We know how important strong unions are to growing a strong economy and strong communities. The labor and environmental movements may not always see eye-to-eye, but making sure that clean energy workers are paid fair wages and that their right to organize is protected is a win-win that we can all get behind.
President Biden’s plan is a great start. Now it’s time for Congress to step up and pass a plan that makes these necessary investments in infrastructure, manufacturing and the clean economy.