Wisconsin Labor Can Lead the 21st Century New Deal

Written by Jake Castanza

The American Rescue Plan put in motion by the White House is the first good news we have put in front of American households and American workers in over 50 years – and it is a crowning success of organized labor unions, with Wisconsin as an important and deserving player in crucial negotiations.

We truly feel that this is a turning point for the people of Wisconsin, and a golden opportunity to turn the tide in favor of our hard-working state to lead in this 21st Century New Deal.

“We’ve held America together” over the last year during the travails of the pandemic, as AFL-President Richard Trumpka likes to say. “The American Rescue Plan is relief for working people, not another bailout for big banks on Wall Street.”

America, and Wisconsin, needs bold action and increased investment, which is why a large part of the federal government’s proposed $3 trillion investment will be tied to construction-related spending on infrastructure and have a significant impact on Wisconsin. This is prime time for us to act.

This is a golden opportunity to make the most of the Labor Movement’s current prominence. The Wisconsin Building Trades Council applauds the U.S. Senate (and Senator Tammy Baldwin for her support) for confirming Marty Walsh as President Biden’s Secretary of Labor. As a fellow second-generation member of the Laborers’ Union, Marty Walsh understands the struggles facing Wisconsin’s working families.

As the son of a former Laborer and union Business Manager, I completely relate. I grew up steeped in the traditions of labor unions and the positive impact they can have on members’ lives and society—from ensuring good wages, health insurance, and the security of tomorrow, to a social bond that holds labor communities together.

Labor finally has a seat at the table again, in rebuilding America post COVID19 as part of this 21st Century New Deal, as many call this period of hope for the American future. We haven’t felt this emboldened since the first New Deal and the beginnings of America’s greatest economic period, stemming from the post-war rise in unionism, the passage of the GI Bill, a housing program, and other progressive actions that led to a doubling of the median family income in only 30 years and creating a middle class that included nearly 60 percent of Americans by the late 1970s.

Wisconsin has deep roots in devising and implementing New Deal policies. Wisconsin was the first state to implement the federal unemployment law. Our economists and labor-friendly politicians helped shape progressive legislation, including Social Security and social justice laws that protected the welfare of Americans.

It is estimated that by the time the program ended in 1942, the Civilian Conservations Corps in Wisconsin employed 92,000 men (75,000 of whom were from Wisconsin) and paid out about $16.5 million to enrollees’ dependents.

With Labor now at the table, middle-class and working-poor Americans shall no longer be forgotten. Wisconsin can once again be a leader in the 21st Century Labor Movement.

History has shown us that Wisconsin’s building trades bring the experience and organization needed to strengthen and expand America’s middle class. The Wisconsin Building Trade Council serves as the unifying voice for 15 member unions and more than 40,000 union workers across the state.

On a daily basis we’re working to advocate for worker benefits and compensation with business leaders and through legislative priorities and activities and secure federal funding to train the next generation of Wisconsin’s workforce that will be on the front lines of this investment – rebuilding our state.

Our efforts to advocate for fair pay and worker protections have had a hand in raising wages and raising standards for all workers, not just our members. The Wisconsin Building Trade Council was also influential in making sure construction workers not only were able to return to work during the pandemic but to also make sure that Wisconsin’s workers had the necessary safety and equipment needed to protect them from the further spread of COVID-19.

We are the voice of Wisconsin men and women who work in the construction trades – cultivating long-term relationships to spur economic opportunities and security for our Wisconsin communities. Our goals are big, but we are committed to excellence in everything we do. And we’re just getting started.

Jake Castanza is Executive Director of newly relaunched Wisconsin Building Trades Council