Fight over postal vehicle production continues for union, may roll on in Wisconsin Senate race
A labor leader says 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 the work to the Badger State.
The issue may also continue for a while in Wisconsin's U.S. Senate election this year.
The United Auto Workers held a rally Saturday in Oshkosh, outside the global headquarters of the Oshkosh Corporation. The demand to the company: let the U.S. Postal Service know the firm no longer plans to build up to 165,000 postal vehicles over the next decade in Spartanburg South Carolina, where the company may use non-union labor, and instead build the postal vehicles in Oshkosh. This would add 1,000 union jobs to Wisconsin.
Milwaukee-based AFL-CIO state President Stephanie Bloomingdale led the crowd of about 250 people in one of the chants.
"Make it here, make it here, and make it union!" Bloomingdale exclaimed, as the crowd responded.
The Postal Service announced the contract with Oshkosh Corp. just over a year ago, and some Milwaukee leaders pushed for 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 "perfect place" to make what's called the Next Generation Delivery Vehicle.
Last week, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a Trump appointee, ruled the contract could go ahead. He addressed recent calls from the Biden administration to make most of the vehicles electric by saying for now about 10% of the vehicles will be EV, and maybe more later.
Despite DeJoy's announcement, Bob Lynk, who heads UAW Local 578 at the Oshkosh plant, said the union's international leaders out of Detroit plan to contract the company again this week. Lynk also said the message he gets from Washington is to keep pushing.
"We have talked to congresspeople, and I haven't been told, 'Bob, you're not doing the right thing,' or whatever. I've been told many times to keep the fight up. Keep doing what I'm doing. So, that's what I'm doing,"Lynk told WUWM after the rally.
Lynk said he's not only worried about the postal vehicle jobs. He's concerned that when a current local contract to build light tactical vehicles for the U.S. military ends in about five years that Oshkosh Corp. will promise that any next defense contract would be completed outside of Wisconsin.
Scott Knuth is a welder on those military vehicles. He said having a good paying union job has been a big plus for his family.
"I mean buying our first home, I mean new vehicles. My daughter plays hockey, so that's an expensive sport right off the bat. I mean just a huge, huge difference," he said.
Knuth said welding is tough, dirty work, but he loves it. He's been with Oshkosh Corporation for 13 years, and said he'd like to eventually retire there.
The AFL-CIO's Bloomingdale called the Oshkosh battle a significant point in the state's labor history. She praised Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin for pledging help, but said Republican Sen. Ron Johnson does not have the workers' backs.
"Sen. Ron Johnson just doesn't get it, and he reminds us of this just about every time he talks," Bloomingdale told WUWM.
Saturday's rally in Oshkosh also featured speeches by the five Democrats running against Johnson in this year's election — Mandela Barnes, Tom Nelson, Alex Lasry, Steven Olikara and Sarah Godlewski. All stressed their labor union roots or support for union workers, and said Johnson has not worked hard enough to get Oshkosh Corporation to build the postal vehicles here.
On February 18 following a campaign event in Milwaukee, Johnson said he's talked with both sides at Oshkosh and told news reporters about his roots as a business owner.
"I actually understand the manufacturing process. I understand capacity. I understand investment, and I 'm not going to micromanage Oshkosh Corporation's business. That's their job to do it. But talking to everybody, it kinds of makes sense what's happening and the investment Oshkosh Corporation was talking to me about, I think that'll 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 slated for South Carolina.