Milwaukee, WI – When the $10 billion project to build new US Post Office trucks was approved in Wisconsin, residents were overjoyed. The thought of new jobs coming to the state, upgrades to the current 20-30 year old trucks driven by the USPS, and a growth in the economy sounded all too good. That is until the company running the project, Oshkosh Defense, decided to move the project over to South Carolina instead. Now, Wisconsonites are fighting back.
Political leaders of the state are warning the Oshkosh Defense, the White House and the USPS about the potential negatives moving this project away could inflict. The project is said to take place over 10 years and will create over 1,000 jobs, but if it’s moved to another state that could mean bad things for Democratic candidates around election time. “We are extremely disappointed in Oshkosh Defense’s decision to accept the money from the US Postal Service and then turn around and send their production to a different state,” Stephanie Bloomingdale, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO union federation told The Guardian.
Oshkosh Defense was awarded the contract for this project in February 2021 by the Post Office. The moment was described as a “historic investment” that would benefit not only the Post Office as a whole but the workers as well. The new vehicles are said to be designed with more cargo space, a 360 camera, air conditioning (which previous trucks have lacked), and front and rear collision avoidance. With all of Oshkosh Defense’s plants currently residing in Wisconsin the deal seemed like a no brainer. So why the sudden shift to South Carolina?
Oshkosh workers have even joined in for the fight. As a union company, the workers have been members of the United Auto Workers (UAW) since 1938. They argue moving the production to South Carolina, a very anti-union state, would hurt them. “When we were notified the company won the contract, we were all excited – that’s another contract under our belt, more work for us to do,” said Thomas Bowman, a welder at Oshkosh Defense to The Guardian. “But when we were told it wasn’t being built here, we were all asking, why not? We know we can build it. We got the workers. We got the tooling. It can be done here.”
Ray Curry, President of the UAW, believes this a great opportunity for the Biden Administration to get involved with this project for their Build Back Better plan. However, as the contract currently stands there is failure on both sides. Cindy Estrada, UAW vice-president, said: “We’re saying Build Back Better, but you’re getting it wrong right out of the gate. These are public dollars where we could have more control over making sure this goes to good, union jobs.” Estrada argues the working people are hearing one thing about Build Back Better but seeing another, and that could be hurtful to the Democrats.
Because the contract was awarded by the Post Office to Oshkosh Defense, it is legally out of the White House’s hands. Right now they’ll need to focus on their next big green project introduced back in October which would fund the Post office $6 billion dollars to build delivery trucks that are battery-electric operated.
In November 2021, 30 union presidents including AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, wrote a letter to President Biden urging him to step in on this project and make a change. In the letter the presidents asked Biden to support their call to action in keeping the project within a union state and to ensure that OshKosh Defense doesn’t try to work around union laws in order to offer lower wages, little to no benefits, and worse working conditions.