Will Foxconn Employ Any Milwaukeeans?
Despite nearly $4.1 billion subsidy, company only has goals, not mandates for hiring.
The Milwaukee Common Council is attempting to engage electronics manufacturer Foxconn and state officials to create a pipeline for Milwaukee residents to get jobs at the proposed plant in southern Racine County.
The $10 billion Foxconn project promises to create 10,000 construction jobs and 13,000 permanent jobs. Conversely, while the state’s unemployment rate is at 2.9 percent, nine out of 15 aldermanic districts in Milwaukee have employment rates in excess of 10 percent.
Many of those unemployed Milwaukeeans are minorities. Or as Employ Milwaukee’s Willie Wade, a former alderman, puts it: “2.9 percent [unemployment] means that every white person in the state has a job.”
On the construction side of the project, general contractors Gilbane Building Co. and M-W Group, in partnership with Foxconn, have created hiring goals and are holding 14 meetings across the state to get people involved in the project.
Gilbane, in partnership with CG Schmidt and Northwestern Mutual, had an incredibly successful hiring program for previously unemployed city residents on the recently completed Northwestern Mutual Tower and Commons. The effort created 800 jobs.
Will such a thing happen with the Foxconn project?
Gilbane Vice President Adam R. Jelen told members of the Common Council’s powerful Steering and Rules Committee this morning that the lead contractors, in partnership with Foxconn, are hoping to hire Wisconsin-based contractors for 60 percent of the work, Racine County businesses for 10 percent of the work and a combined 10 percent of the work is expected to go to firms owned by minorities, women or military veterans.
As for project work hours, 70 percent of the hours are intended to go to Wisconsin residents, with an emphasis on Racine County residents. Ten percent of the work hours are intended to go to the combined group of minorities, women and military veterans. Vendors interested in working on the project’s construction or supply chain are encouraged to go the Wisconn Valley website.
“Why is that percentage so low, especially given that you’re combining the three of those categories together?” asked Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs.
Jelen said “it’s based on the capacity in the region.” He stressed that contractors have yet to be hired and that Gilbane is undertaking a gap analysis right now to better identify who could participate and at what level. He said a similar analysis was key to the Northwestern Mutual effort.
Ten percent of the estimated 10,000 construction jobs would create a combined 1,000 jobs for the three target groups. But unlike Milwaukee’s mandated job program when city money is provided, the Foxconn hiring program wouldn’t guarantee those residents are from Milwaukee or even Wisconsin residents, nor would they have to be recently unemployed.
That didn’t please Ald. Robert Bauman. The alderman has held a number of hearings on connecting workers to the project with public transit, and recently commissioned a Legislative Reference Bureau report on Foxconn and the project. Bauman compared reading the report to reading Upton Sinclair‘s book “The Jungle,” which deals with turn-of-the-century worker exploitation.
Calling the presentation by Maroney “propaganda,” Bauman asked him why the state didn’t include mandatory hiring levels in their deal with the company. “Doesn’t $4 billion worth of subsidy give the state more than a little leverage to mandate certain things?” asked the alderman.
Maroney responded: “you can look at it like you can mandate everything, or you can look at it like a partner and try to achieve something greater.”
“We want to be a team with the City of Milwaukee. We want to be a team with Waukesha County. We are going to need everyone,” said Maroney.
Attempting to play peacemaker in a meeting that was getting tense, Council President Ashanti Hamilton offered this thought: “in many ways the state identifying a minority hiring goal is a step further than where we are.” The city’s Residents Preference Program only looks at city residency and employment status, not whether the worker is a minority. A disparity study approved by the council in the latest city budget could change that in the future.
Hamilton’s olive branch to the state doesn’t mean the alderman is standing pat. “With the right type of partnership we could do a lot better than that,” said Hamilton about the 10 percent hiring goal.
Hamilton singled out Bernadette Karanja for praise. Karanja is the city’s Workforce Development Coordinator, a position funded by Hamilton’s office.
“There are some things that have happened here that give us a line of communication that we didn’t have before,” added Wade. He noted that with his switch from the city to Employ Milwaukee, and Karanja’s reverse move, communication lines are open that weren’t before. Chytania Brown also went from Employ Milwaukee to the state’s Department of Workforce Development, and has worked extensively on the Foxconn project.
Will Trump Attend Groundbreaking?
One thing to watch for in the coming month is a presidential groundbreaking. Bauman says he has heard a mid-May groundbreaking is planned with President Donald Trump in attendance. When asked, Maroney said that would be news to him.
Trump has inserted himself into the process before. According to his former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Trump was shown a site in Kenosha via helicopter on a visit to the state in April 2017 and pitched Foxconn on Wisconsin in a subsequent meeting at the White House.
Bauman’s Displeasure with Foxconn’s Absence
Bauman wasn’t pleased that official representatives of Foxconn didn’t appear at the meeting. He said that Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce president Tim Sheehy called at 8:50 a.m. to say that company representatives would be unable to appear at the 9 a.m. meeting.
Foxconn’s absence created an awkward situation early in the meeting where Jelen explained that the current hiring process applies to the Foxconn project’s first phase, but that he wasn’t able to estimate how big the buildings involved would be or how many people would be employed for that phase.
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- Back in the News: Foxconn Landing Google Contract? - Bruce Murphy - Nov 23rd, 2020
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- Murphy’s Law: What Foxconn Will Cost Taxpayers - Bruce Murphy - Oct 28th, 2020
- Campaign Cash: Vos Hit By Surge of Outside Spending - Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - Oct 26th, 2020
- Will Foxconn Pay Taxes Pledged to Racine County? - Corri Hess - Oct 24th, 2020
- Murphy’s Law: Why Foxconn Won’t Leave Wisconsin - Bruce Murphy - Oct 21st, 2020
- Foxconn Founder Terry Gou Addresses Foxconn’s Wisconsin Investment - Foxconn Technology Group - Oct 19th, 2020
- Back in the News: The Foxconn Deal Was Never Real - Bruce Murphy - Oct 19th, 2020
- Two years after Trump put a shovel in the ground, Wisconsin is still waiting on Foxconn to come through - Democratic Party of Wisconsin - Oct 19th, 2020
- Back in the News: Foxconn Won’t Get State Tax Credits - Bruce Murphy - Oct 12th, 2020
Read more about Foxconn Facility here