The IBEW took center stage last week at a Wisconsin “Build Back Better” event promoting Joe Biden’s plan to emphasize jobs, training and investment as the nation carefully transitions to a clean energy economy.
|IBEW members in Wisconsin joined International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, center, via Zoom this week for a Biden-Harris Build Back Better event focusing on good union jobs and training as the nation transitions to renewable energies. Left: Brady Weiss, journeyman lineman and assistant business manager of Eau Claire, Wis., Local 953. Right: PV installer and instructor Julie Brazeau of Stevens Point, Wis., Local 388.
“The Build Back Better platform is what we need at this moment to modernize our nation’s infrastructure, create millions of middle-class jobs, and reduce emissions all across the economy,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson, who is serving as a member of the Biden-Harris campaign’s Climate Engagement Advisory Council.
The roundtable discussion also featured two Wisconsin members and Tom Steyer, co-chair of the advisory panel. It was hosted via Zoom by Tricia Zunker, who is running to represent northern Wisconsin in Congress.
Stephenson said Build Back Better is part of an overall 2020 Biden platform that “puts workers front and center” and will allow the IBEW “to organize new green jobs and make sure they are middle-class, family-supporting jobs.”
Opportunities are on the rise, said PV installer and instructor Julie Brazeau of Stevens Point, Wis., Local 388, who’s seen the solar market “grow exponentially” over the past decade.
“For many years we didn’t see jobs,” Brazeau said. “It’s really exciting to see the market open up now and the jobs materializing. There are wonderful opportunities for all kinds of skills, from material handlers to highly skilled electricians that are going to connect these systems to the grid.”
Noting that the IBEW’s unrivaled training includes solar coursework, Brazeau talked about her own life-changing apprenticeship as a single mother nearly 30 years ago.
“I was able to earn money and support myself while I learned a trade,” she said. “And not just any trade, this was a highly skilled trade, a trade I would take with me for the rest of my life.
“I also learned a lot about brotherhood when I joined the union. I saw that members cared deeply for each other and took care of each other. That was something that I really hadn’t seen in any other workplace. It was very impressive.”
Steyer jumped in as she finished speaking to applaud her message.
“What Julie had to say was incredibly important,” he said. “She was talking about people caring for each other, about a long career of hard work, but also about leadership from the grassroots. Just an amazing statement about how we can move forward together under Joe Biden, and what that really looks like in real time.”
|Two days before the energy roundtable, other Wisconsin IBEW members were in the spotlight as Milwaukee Local 494 welcomed Sen. Kamala Harris to its training center. Business Manager Dean Warsh guided the vice-presidential candidate along stops that included the lighting controls lab, transformers and motors lab, and the low-voltage information and technology lab. “Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have been longtime proponents of organized labor,” Warsh said. “Kamala saw firsthand how the state-of-the-art training center provides a no-cost education to the region’s men and women who want to become electrical workers.” Photo courtesy of the Biden-Harris campaign.
Journeyman lineman Brady Weiss, assistant business manager of Eau Claire, Wis., Local 953, said it’s vital to sustain the grid’s reliability as the transition to renewable sources moves forward.
“Our focus is to do it in a responsible manner so that when people turn on the light switch, the lights come on, the power continues to flow, manufacturers are able to operate and we’re able to sustain life and business,” said Weiss, who is also mayor of his hometown of Mondovi.
An emphasis on retraining displaced workers and opportunities for apprenticeships is equally critical, he said, “so we don’t leave workers behind in this changing economy.”
He said some local energy employers are ahead of the national curve in investing in wind and solar — as well as Wisconsin’s bounty of hydroelectricity that provides affordable power and more.
“When you have hydroelectric dams in place, a byproduct of that is a lake,” he said. “All these projects that are done and managed by IBEW members that are trained, skilled workers, provide great recreational opportunities for our area.”
Stephenson said Biden’s Build Back Better plan reflects how intently he’s listened to the union’s advice and concern.
“Vice President Biden invited us to the table early on,” he said. “He wanted to know how we could balance moving to a clean energy environment. And at the same time preserving and recognizing those valuable jobs that we have within the IBEW and other unions that will be affected as the transition continues toward more renewable energies.”
The same day as the Wisconsin panel, Biden was in Michigan championing union jobs and decrying four years of broken promises to workers. Far from protecting American jobs, he said, the president has enriched corporations with tax cuts that reward offshoring, driven the trade deficit to an all-time high, and is handing more and more federal contracts to foreign companies.
“[Trump’s] 2017 tax bill slashed taxes for companies that send production and jobs overseas,” Biden said at the United Auto Workers hall in Warren, Mich. “These corporations then make huge profits by exporting their goods back to the United States to sell to American consumers.”
At the event, Biden unveiled a set of tax proposals to punish the offshoring of jobs by American companies and to reward those companies who bring jobs back to America from overseas.
“Make it in Michigan. Make it in America,” Biden said. “Invest in the communities and the workers in places like Warren. The UAW workers and steel workers and IBEW workers — the best craftsmen and women in the world – are right here.”
Stephenson said IBEW has seen that kind of commitment from Biden since he was first elected to the U.S. Senate 50 years ago. He knows that labor will have a voice in the Biden administration, just as Wisconsin unions now do in their governor’s office, thanks to what they accomplished in 2018.
“In Wisconsin, unions have been under attack if you think about since 2010,” Stephenson said. “Two years ago, you slowed down the attacks by defeating Scott Walker and you replaced him with Gov. Tony Evers, who values union labor and the preservation of the middle class.”
The same thing can happen nationwide, he said: “It’s time to stop the attacks on labor and put Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the White House.”