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Biden visit presents ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ for Laborers

President Joe Biden speaks at LUINA in DeForest on Wednesday after giving his State of the Union Address a day earlier. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

President Joe Biden touted legislative actions which will send millions of federal dollars to Wisconsin construction projects while speaking at a labor union training center rally in Deforest on Wednesday. Biden’s speech at the Laborers’ International Union of North America training center was his first after giving his State of the Union Address in Washington earlier this week.

The president’s vision for the economy was “blue collar, blue change.” Biden praised labor unions and highlighted legislation, which passed with some Republican support, like the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed by Congress and signed by him in 2021.

“I signed a one-in-a-generation investment putting Americans to work building our national infrastructure,” Biden said during his 24-minute speech touting 12 million jobs and record unemployment numbers. “It was bipartisan,” he said.

Biden said union workers across the country, including the Wisconsin Laborers, were seeing the law’s effects firsthand, Biden said after shaking hands with workers and apprentices.

“At the Port of Green Bay, we’re helping turn an old water plant site into a new port terminal,” Biden said. The project at the mouth of the Fox River received $30 million in different federal grants. “We’re going to create thousands of jobs,” the president added.

“We’re riding the impact here in Wisconsin with the result of the infrastructure law,” Wisconsin Laborers’ District Council Business Manager Kent Miller said. The president speaking in Wisconsin also raised local awareness about building trades jobs people otherwise wouldn’t have known about, he added.

“Having the president amplify the opportunities of building trades jobs by being at our location was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Miller said. “I think we have a great story to tell in Wisconsin.”

To meet the needs of the recent legislation, the state would have to prepare a local workforce for the future through apprenticeships, Miller said. In the fall of 2022, Department of Workforce Development Secretary Amy Pechacek visited the training center after Wisconsin hit a milestone of 15,000 active apprentices.

Miller said growing the local workforce through apprentices would guarantee Wisconsin workers would take green jobs supported by federal money, like solar projects funded by tax credits through the Inflation Reduction Act.

If Wisconsin’s future green centers rely on out-of-state-workers, the state could lose out on money, Construction Business Group Executive Director Robb Kahl said in an editorial.

LIUNA officials said they were honored to host the president, calling him the “most labor-friendly president.”

“LIUNA commends the Biden Administration on the historic progress made so far, which has resulted in the creation of 12 million jobs and a record-setting drop in unemployment,” General president of LIUNA Terry O’Sullivan said in a statement. “LIUNA members are seeing real and tangible results through jobs-creating investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Chips and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act.”

In the latest round of Bureau of Labor Statistics data, around 8% of Wisconsin workers are employed in a union, down from 20% in 1989. Open-shop contractor associations pointed out the low union turnout in their response to Biden’s speech.

“Regardless of party, it’s always an honor for Wisconsin whenever the President comes to visit,” John Schulze, political director for ABC of Wisconsin, said in a statement. “However, most construction workers are employed at open shop contractors. ‘Blue Collar Joe’ is really missing out when he won’t leave his comfort zone and learn about what it means to be built on merit.”

Biden’s speech in Wisconsin followed a report the U.S. economy added 517,000 jobs in January and the unemployment rate fell to 3.4%, according to BLS data. The president also has some of the worst approval ratings ever for a president’s second year, racking up 40% of Americans’ approval, a Reuters poll said.

About Ethan Duran

Ethan Duran is the construction and development reporter at The Daily Reporter. He can be reached at (414) 551-7505 or [email protected]

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