American Jobs Plan presents opportunity to rebuild Wisconsin’s manufacturing, labor, environmental legacy

    FLINT, MI - OCTOBER 13: United Auto Workers union members and their families rally near the General Motors Flint Assembly plant on Solidarity Sunday on October 13, 2019 (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)
    FLINT, MI - OCTOBER 13: United Auto Workers union members and their families rally near the General Motors Flint Assembly plant on Solidarity Sunday on October 13, 2019 (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

    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. 

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    Pam Fendt
    Pam Fendt has worked for the Great Lakes Region Organizing Committee of Laborers’ International Union of North America since 2010. She is a delegate to the Milwaukee Area Labor Council and to the Milwaukee Building and Construction Trades Council for Laborers Union Local 113. Her key accomplishments include helping Laborers’ organizers in their work to bring new people and companies into the union, working with the organizers committee members at statewide Building Trades meetings, and becoming the MALC president in 2017. She serves as Labor Representative on Employ Milwaukee (the area workforce development board) and on the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County Board of Directors and Executive Board. In her spare time she likes to read, play cribbage and Scrabble, and spend time with family. Pam Fendt was also a Duncan Yo-Yo contest 2nd place winner when she was 12.
    Jennifer Giegerich
    As the government affairs director of Wisconsin Conservation Voters, Jennifer leads the work inside the Capitol to pass and defend pro-conservation policy, no matter the political make-up of the Legislature or the governor’s office. Jennifer builds long-term relationships with legislators and staff, tracks all conservation legislation and budget matters, and helps craft winning issue campaigns. Jennifer also works with the field team to develop local campaigns that build the case for state-level policy. In addition, she works with members, conservation partners, and government stakeholders to ensure that conservation policy is implemented at the federal, state, and local levels as necessary.