Wisconsin Locals Target Job-Killing Gov. Walker
August 15, 2014
Four years ago, The Electrical Worker reported on the good fortune of Jeannine Powell, an unemployed third-year apprentice member of Milwaukee Local 494 who had just been hired with 14 other journeymen and apprentices to retrofit an abandoned factory.
The factory’s new owner, Talgo, a Spain-based producer of locomotive cars, was planning to supply rail cars to a planned Milwaukee-Madison high-speed passenger line that was to be built with $810 million in funds that former Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle and other regional leaders had secured from the Obama administration’s federal stimulus.
One year later, Republican Scott Walker was elected governor and promptly shut down the rail project, saying it was a boondoggle that would “cost” the state too much money in the future.
Then, Talgo pulled out of Wisconsin, filing a claim for $66 million in losses. Hundreds of new jobs that could have put more workers like Powell back on the job died on the vine.
Dave Cieslewicz, a former mayor of Madison, explained Walker’s abandonment of high-speed rail, saying, “Scott Walker found it politically useful to exploit hard feelings between rural and urban Wisconsin.”
Walker has gained major national media attention for his successful efforts to undermine collective bargaining by the state’s public employees. And he is often portrayed as a potential candidate for president.
But, back in Wisconsin, Walker’s poor record on job creation – Wisconsin is 37th out of U.S. states – is under deeper scrutiny as he faces a tough election challenge from Democrat Mary Burke.
As Wisconsin’s former secretary of commerce, Burke, herself a business leader, focused on attracting new businesses to the state and helped entrepreneurs and small companies grow. During her tenure under a previous governor the state’s unemployment rate was under 5 percent, representing 57,000 more jobs than exist today.
“We will give Mary Burke any and all help she needs,” says Milwaukee Local 494 Business Manager John Bzdawka.
“Memories are short,” says Bzdawka. While some voters may have forgotten how Walker shut down high-speed rail, he says, fewer will forget that he promised to create 250,000 jobs. “He’s only hit about half that number and it looks like many of the new jobs are low-paying,” says Bzdawka, adding that Wisconsin’s low national ranking on jobs is commonly discussed.
Polls show that even so-called “independent” voters in the state are already locking in for Burke or Walker.
However, Bzdawka, secretary-treasurer of the Wisconsin State Electrical Workers Association, is hoping that recent defeats by tea party candidates in other states portend a Walker loss.
“I think we are seeing signals that people are sick of politicians like Walker who have an uncompromising approach to governing,” he says.