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President Biden to visit Milwaukee Monday, during an upswing in union organizing

U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden depart the White House September 2, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Win McNamee
Getty Images
U.S. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden depart the White House September 2, 2022 in Washington, DC.

President Joe Biden is due in Milwaukee at midday Monday to speak at a Laborfest gathering at the lakefront.

The Milwaukee Area Labor Council organizes Laborfest. Council President Pam Fendt said she's very glad the president will be here. She said Biden has come through on a campaign promise to increase infrastructure spending. Fendt said that money is already helping to create good paying jobs.

She said she hopes to urge the president to next try to expand workers' abilities to organize, "To further our wages, and our safety on the job. Our voice at the workplace," Fendt told WUWM over the weekend.

Fendt said she hopes Biden will also talk about protecting workers' right to vote, "and to exercise our choice in our democracy. And to be assured that those systems work just fine."

Biden's visit comes during an upswing in labor organizing across the U.S., including in Wisconsin.

UW-Milwaukee Economics Prof. John Heywood
Screen grab from his UW-Milwaukee web page
UW-Milwaukee Economics Prof. John Heywood

UW-Milwaukee economics professor John Heywood directs the university's graduate program in human resources and labor relations.

He says the latest data from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) show a 57% increase in the number of petitions to start union locals, compared to a year ago.

Heywood cites three main reasons: "The first is that the labor market is in a really good position for workers. Unemployment is low. Firms are often saying they can't find the workers they need."

Secondly, Heywood says there have been more workplace health concerns sparked by COVID-19. He says the workers filing the petitions with the NLRB weren't able to work from the relative safety of home.

"Whether it's the 250 Starbucks locations, or the nurses at UW Health, or the workers in the warehouses of Amazon, the list goes on and on," Heywood says. He adds that many of those employees "began to realize they have an essential role."

Thirdly, he says the Biden administration is somewhat more supportive of unions, and so is the NLRB. "So, you're more likely to experience success when the administration wants you to experience success," Heywood says.

Wisconsin Republicans say inflation during the Biden years has been financially harmful to many workers. Republican candidate for Wisconsin governor Tim Michels and incumbent Sen. Ron Johnson (R) are expected to offer more criticism of the Biden visit during Monday morning news briefings.

Michels is challenging incumbent Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, while Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes is running against Johnson in the November elections.

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