A labor leader said pressure will continue on a Wisconsin company to change its plans to build a new fleet of postal vehicles in South Carolina and instead move work to Badger State.
The problem could also continue for some time in the US Senate elections in Wisconsin this year.
The United Auto Workers held a rally Saturday in Oshkosh outside the world headquarters of the Oshkosh Corporation. The request to the company: Let the U.S. Postal Service know that the company no longer plans to build up to 165,000 postal vehicles over the next decade in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where the company could use of non-union labor, and that it would build the postal vehicles in Ochkosh instead. That would add 1,000 unionized jobs in Wisconsin.
Milwaukee-based AFL-CIO state chair Stephanie Bloomingdale led the crowd of about 250 in one of the chants.
“Do it here, do it here and do it union!” Bloomingdale’s exclaimed, as the crowd responded.
The Postal Service announced the contract with Oshkosh Corp. a little over a year ago, and some Milwaukee executives pushed for the production to happen at the largely vacant Century City property on the city’s north side. But four months later, the company said the vehicles would be built in South Carolina, calling it the “ideal place” to manufacture what is being called the next-generation delivery vehicle.
Last week, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee, decided the contract could go ahead. He responded to recent calls from the Biden administration to make most vehicles electric by saying that for now about 10% of vehicles will be electric vehicles, and possibly more later.
Despite DeJoy’s announcement, Bob Lynk, who leads UAW Local 578 at the Oshkosh plant, said the union’s international leaders outside Detroit plan to contract the company again this week. Lynk also said the message he gets from Washington is to keep pushing.
“We talked to members of Congress, and I wasn’t told, ‘Bob, you’re not doing the right thing,’ or anything. I was repeatedly told to keep fighting. Keep doing what I’m doing So that’s what I’m doing,” Lynk told WUWM after the rally.
Lynk said he’s not just concerned about postal vehicle jobs. He fears that when an ongoing local contract to build light tactical vehicles for the U.S. military ends in about five years, Oshkosh Corp. promise that any future defense contracts would be made outside of Wisconsin.
Scott Knuth is a welder on these military vehicles. He said having a well-paying union job has been a big plus for his family.
“I mean buying our first house, I mean new vehicles. My daughter plays hockey, so it’s an expensive sport right off the bat. I mean just a huge, huge difference,” he said. .
Knuth said welding is hard and messy work, but he loves it. He has worked for Oshkosh Corporation for 13 years and said he would like to retire there eventually.
The AFL-CIO’s Bloomingdale’s called the Battle of Oshkosh a significant moment in the state’s labor history. She praised Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin for her pledge to help, but said Republican Sen. Ron Johnson didn’t have the workers’ back.
“Senator Ron Johnson just doesn’t get it, and he reminds us of that pretty much every time he speaks,” Bloomingdale told WUWM.
Saturday’s rally in Oshkosh also featured speeches from the five Democrats running against Johnson in this year’s election – Mandela Barnes, Tom Nelson, Alex Lasry, Steven Olikara and Sarah Godlewski. All pointed to their union roots or support for union workers, and said Johnson hadn’t worked hard enough to get Oshkosh Corporation to build the postal vehicles here.
On Feb. 18, following a campaign event in Milwaukee, Johnson said he spoke with both sides in Oshkosh and told reporters about his roots as a business owner.
“I actually understand the manufacturing process. I understand the capability. I understand the investment, and I’m not going to micromanage the business of Oshkosh Corporation. It’s their job to do that. But speaking to everyone world, it makes sense what’s happening and the Oshkosh Corporation investment was talking to me about it, I think it’s going to be very positive,” Johnson said.
Oshkosh Corporation has promised to set up a technical support center in Oshkosh for the postal vehicle project, creating about 100 jobs.
That’s one-tenth of the vehicle manufacturing positions currently planned for South Carolina.