Community groups gather in from of a Michels company building in Milwaukee. (Photo | Voces de la Frontera Action!)
Black and Latino community organizations joined labor allies in Milwaukee Thursday, denouncing what they say are discriminatory hiring practices by Republican candidate for governor Tim Michels. Protesters gathered in front of the R1VER Michels Suites building to make sure their point was made loud and clear. The rally was organized after the Madison Times reported a lack of diversity at the Michels company, as well as allegations of discrimination and sexual harassment.
“In our community we judge people by what they do, not by what they say,” said Christine Neumann-Ortiz, executive director of Voces de la Frontera Action. “But in the case of Tim Michels, in both words and actions, it is clear that he is unfit for public office.” Voces de la Frontera Action was joined by Power to the Polls, SEIU and Wisdom Action Network at the Thursday rally, one of several in recent weeks.
According to a report by The Madison Times, public records Michels had to file in Urbana, Illinois show that between 2011 and 2022, the Michels Corporation “never surpassed 3% Black, 8.2% Hispanic, 0.5% Asian or Pacific islander, and 1.5% Native American” among its employees. Further, the company’s demographics never fell below 88% for white employees. Higher up the corporate ladder the numbers were even slimmer. In 2022, 97.8% of Michels’ managers or officials were white, zero were Black and two were Hispanic, while 96.4% of Michels’ employees listed as “professionals” were white, one was Hispanic, and none were Black.
At a recent appearance at the Milwaukee Rotary Club, Michels mentioned some of the troubles he’s had doing business in certain states. “People are going to know that Wisconsin is business-friendly,” said Michels. “Michels works in all 50 states, or at least we used to, there are some states that we won’t go to anymore. We’ve tried over and over and over. But people show up late, they show up hung-over, they can’t pass a drug test, or [are] not a good team member. I’ll tell you of all 50 states, the best state of them all is Wisconsin.”
“We know you have a great work ethic here,” Michels continued. “We know that businesses want to stay here that want to relocate here. … you know, that young men and women want to stay here because it’s a great place to raise a family. That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to make Wisconsin open for business.”
The candidate also bashed stimulus checks issued by the Biden administration, which he said made people not want to work. “Everywhere I go, I hear the stories,” he told the Rotary audience. “People in Marathon County, in Brown County, Dane County, Dodge County where I grew up … there’s a whole bunch of people that just aren’t quite ready to go back to work yet. And why? Because they’re just living off their 26 weeks, 26 weeks of unemployment checks. It doesn’t take 26 weeks to find a job in this day and age. There’s help wanted signs everywhere.”
Neumann-Ortiz and others who attended the Thursday rally said they are worried about how a Michels administration would affect Milwaukee. “We live in a majority minority city that is almost 20% Latino and almost 40% Black,” Neumann Ortiz said. “We are one of the poorest cities in the country with a poverty rate of more than 25%. Yet, Michels and the company he runs can’t hire our people who have been disproportionately impacted by decades of de-industrialization, corporate greed, and unfair trade agreements.” While Michels has been campaigning on his his business experience, Neumann-Ortiz said his company’s record raises questions about his priorities and leadership.
“He also has no plan whatsoever to address both economic justice and racial disparity which is the reality, especially for people of color in the city of Milwaukee,” Neumann-Ortiz said. Whereas Neumann-Ortiz referred to Milwaukee as the state’s “economic engine,” Michels downplayed the city’s importance at the Rotary Club event. Referring to the “big investment we made just a mile south of here with the shiny building,” — the Michels company headquarters — he said, “That’s very important. But Milwaukee is not more important than any other city.”
Neumann-Ortiz said she is concerned about Michels’ campaign ads targeting immigrant workers. Michels is an outspoken opponent of restoring drivers’ licenses for undocumented residents of Wisconsin. “His whole platform is discriminatory and actually, if elected, would actually leave things worse for working people,” Neumann-Ortiz said. “Not just the people that he’s disparaging but, in doing so, everybody else.”
Ciara Fox, a representative from SEIU, said of the Michels Corp.’s lakefront headquarters. “If you are building an office here in Milwaukee, you should be creating jobs here in Milwaukee, for people of color.”
“This country was built on the backs of people who work very hard, and they were minorities, and here you come taking money from our state,” said Rev. Greg Lewis of Power to the Polls. “The way I look at it, it’s billions. So, when you have that kind of privilege, you have an obligation to give back to the communities that you take from.”
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