Now located just off of I-90, the LiUNA training center started in around 1973 in Portage County. It’s now run by the Wisconsin Laborers’ District Council, an organization of five labor unions across the state. The DeForest training center first opened in 2004, and has expanded multiple times since then.
It’s filled with rooms where people training to be apprentices learn different styles of concrete pouring, welding equipment, and spider-like digging machines. the training center prepares and helps certify over 3,500 workers every year.
Today, the training center was the staging ground for Senator Tammy Baldwin, Representative Mark Pocan, and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh. They were there to tout the creation of union jobs under President Biden, pointing to recent legislation like the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act.
According to the most recent report from the state Department of Workforce Development, there are currently over 600,000 workers in construction and manufacturing in Wisconsin. And according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, just over 9% of all workers in Wisconsin were represented by a union last year.
After watching students practice with heavy machinery and learn more about the trades, the trio spoke about the importance of union labor.
Senator Tammy Baldwin started the press conference by talking about her efforts in helping to fund apprenticeship programs.
“We are including $303 million in the upcoming fiscal year (for the program), which is a $65 million increase over last year,” Senator Balwin says.
After taking a few jabs at her Republican counterpart in the US Senate Ron Johnson, Representative Mark Pocan then spoke about the importance of not just creating jobs, but creating good paying jobs.
“These are really great programs where you can be working, and learning, and carrying a paycheck home, so that after going through the program that you’ve seen today, make a really good, family-supporting wage, so you can have a career working in an area helping to build things in our community,” Pocan says.
US Labor Secretary Marty Walsh finished today’s press conference by comparing working conditions when Biden took office to working conditions today.
“I just want to think back to two and a half years ago, when Biden took office. 10 million Americans were out of work, our schools were closed, or open in some hybrid fashion, our colleges were in a hybrid fashion, our businesses were struggling. The delegation behind me, led here in this state, were able to pass the American Rescue Plan, and that plan got people got back to work. 10 million Americans are back to work today. I know we have challenges today, but think back to the challenges we had two and a half years ago when people weren’t working,” Walsh says.
Walsh did not mention the global pandemic that caused that job loss, or the fact that that pandemic is still ongoing.
Walsh then compared US labor efforts today to those under former President Trump, saying that both private employers and federally funded workforce programs are collaborating now more than ever.
“One of the things that I think the difference is, is that we are doubling down on workforce development and job training, (and) we’re doubling down on worker safety. Our motto is basically protecting workers morning, noon and night, making sure that we are worker focused. But we also want to make sure that we have a relationship with the private sector and businesses,” Walsh says.
There was no explicit mention of the upcoming fall election in just less than two weeks, where hotly contested races for US Senate, Governor, and a bevy of other state and local offices are on the ballot, in one of the nation’s closest races.
While not a campaign stop, the three touted the achievements made by Democrats over the last two years.
At home, Senator Ron Johnson is polling six points ahead of his Democratic challenger Mandela Barnes, according to the latest Marquette Law School poll. Meanwhile, in Wisconsin’s 3rd Congressional District, which has stayed in the hands of Democrats for over two decades, Republican Derrick Van Orden is currently polling ahead of Democrat Brad Pfaff by five points.
The midterm election will take place on November 8, however early in-person voting began yesterday.
Photos courtesy: Nate Wegehaupt / WORT News Team