Milwaukee workers and community organizations rallied with elected officials outside of the new Milwaukee Bucks Arena ahead of the ceremonial groundbreaking of Foxconn in Mt. Pleasant on June 28.
The rally put an emphasis on praising the Bucks Arena district for providing opportunities like family-supporting jobs, unions and hiring residents from the neighborhood. These opportunities come as an agreement between the Bucks, Alliance for Good Jobs and Milwaukee Area Service and Hospitality Workers Organization (MASH). Carrying red signs that read “Wisconsin Needs Unions” and “Fight for $15,” workers called upon Foxconn to follow the Bucks’ example in an effort to prevent Wisconsin families from falling behind.
A lineup of speakers took to the podium to fire up the workers and express their skepticism of and hope for Wisconsin’s future with Foxconn. Among them was Peter Rickman, executive director for MASH.
“The Walker-Trump rigged economy doesn’t work for working people, so we’re here today to not only protest that, but to say, ‘there is an alternative,’” says Rickman. “The Bucks Arena is a shining example of what we can do differently to take ‘low-wage Walker’s’ Wisconsin and make it into a bastion of the middle class for the people in our state here.”
Rickman criticized Walker’s attacks on Wisconsin unions and low-income families, particularly his negligence towards wage floors.
“These are deliberate policy choices that have been made,” Rickman says. “But the truth is, these are not the way things have to be.”
Solo Littlejohn, a fast-food worker at a Wendy’s in Kenosha and a supporter of the Fight for 15 movement, spoke about his struggle making ends meet on minimum wage, and how more Bucks arena-style agreements would benefit low-income families and people of color.
“There are Bucks arena workers who do the same things that I do: They prep food, they serve customers, but get paid decently and are respected with union rights like everyone deserves,” Littlejohn says. “This is not the case in places like Mt. Pleasant where they are building the Foxconn facility.
“If Foxconn can take $4 billion of taxpayers of Wisconsin to operate in our state, then they can sit down with us as workers, as equal in the union and negotiate some decent standards.”
Democratic Rep. David Crowley showed support for Fight for 15 and MASH, as well as a regional transportation authority.
“One thing our Republican colleagues and our governor have failed to address is the issue of how we will actually get to these jobs,” Crowley says. “Since Foxconn has been here in the state of Wisconsin, I have been pushing for regional transportation authority, and that is something that we need here in Milwaukee and all throughout southeastern Wisconsin to make sure that not only people of color, but all low-income families and struggling communities have access to these jobs.”
Kae Jae Johnson, organizer for Black Leaders Organizing for Change, spoke about the unemployment rates for the African American community in Wisconsin, particularly in the 53206 area code.
“Foxconn and Wisconsin elected officials have got to be held accountable,” Johnson says. “The noise around Foxconn is so loud and the silence about how it’s going to affect the black community — the words have not been heard. When you talk about how Foxconn is going to improve Wisconsin, I’m asking how can it improve the black community? When you answer that, then I can hear you.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mahlon Mitchel fired up the workers with a call-and-response before taking the stand.
“Foxconn is a bad deal,” Mitchel says. “But if we have enough money to give four-and-a-half billion dollars to Foxconn, we have enough to invest in the people of this state.”
Mitchel showed support for statewide healthcare and improved education as well.
“Governor Walker is giving away our tax dollars to a foreign company with very low transparency and little accountability,” Mitchel says. “I’ll make damn sure those 13,000 jobs come, that we have that regional transport authority set up.”
Rewarded with an uproar of cheers, Mitchel promised to get the underemployed and unemployed access to the 13,000 jobs promised by Foxconn, assuring that the jobs would stay in Wisconsin.
The rally concluded with a final word from Rickman as workers began boarding a bus that would transport the workers to Mt. Pleasant, where they would rally at the site of the Foxconn groundbreaking ceremony.
“The demand was made of (Foxconn) for a Bucks-style agreement for $15 and a union, ensuring access for people who need jobs the most, at first priority and a hiring hall to facilitate that,” Rickman says. “Not only did Foxconn say ‘no,’ they said ‘hell no.’ We have an example that it can be done. We need good jobs and we need union jobs, and that’s why we’re out here today and heading down to Racine.”