Members of the Milwaukee Common Council April 12 pressed representatives promoting the Foxconn development about diversity at every level of the project.
The council’s steering and rules committee discussed development plans with the state liaison for the project, Matt Moroney of the Wisconsin Department of Administration, and Adam Jelen, a senior vice president with Gilbane Building Company, the lead contractor.
Foxconn Technology Group, the largest contract electronics company in the world, plans to build a campus in Mount Pleasant to manufacture LCD screens, operate a headquarters in Milwaukee, and import and export goods from the Port of Milwaukee.
In courting the Taiwan-based company, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and the GOP-controlled Legislature negotiated the largest taxpayer giveaway to a private corporation in the nation’s history, as well relaxed environmental regulations.
Strong opposition to the project remains, but as contracts are being awarded and opportunities announced, municipal leaders are making sure their communities aren’t excluded.
Ald. Ashanti Hamilton, who chaired the meeting, said its purpose was to engage in a public discussion about Foxconn’s impact on the region and “quite honestly” deal with some concerns.
The alders also heard from the city’s workforce development coordinator, Bernadette Karanja, and Employ Milwaukee’s Willie Wade. The session mostly explored how the massive project could help reduce unemployment in the region and provide opportunities for economic growth, especially for minority and women-owned businesses.
“Foxconn is a great project,” said Ald. Tony Zielinski. “We want to maximize the impact it is going to have on our community here.”
Ald. Robert J. Baumann asked Moroney why the Foxconn contract with Wisconsin did not contain workplace diversity requirements.
The state official admitted there were no requirements, but said the state had diversity “goals.” Throughout the meeting, he emphasized a “Wisconsin First” campaign.
Jelen also emphasized Wisconsin First and said Foxconn agreed that for contracts, at least 60 percent should be Wisconsin-based, with 10 percent based in Racine County, and also 10 percent of targeted firms be owned by women, racial minorities and veterans.
Regarding the workforce, the goal is 70 percent of employees from Racine County, according to Jelen, who said if another goal is met, 10 percent would be women, veterans and people of color.
Baumann hammered at what’s missing from the project, including dedicated state money for public transit to get workers to the Foxconn operations. He asked why the state funded highway improvements and not public transit improvements.
Moroney’s answer was that the Foxconn project “is going to be a huge success.”
Baumann pressed the issue, asking Moroney to recommend transit funding in the next budget.
But the state official said he could not make such a recommendation without more study. “There’s lots of options,” he said.
Both Moroney and Jelen emphasized the size and scale of the Foxconn project and encouraged people to get on board.
After the meeting, Baumann said the committee had heard an hour of propaganda, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.
Coinciding with the meeting was the release of a 54-page document, “An Overview of the Foxconn Group and Plans for Wisconsin Operations,” prepared by the staff in the city’s legislative reference bureau.
“This detailed look at the Foxconn project by the common council is really the first time the public will see what is planned, the Foxconn record in several key areas and how the company has operated during its history,” said Baumann, who chairs the public works committee. “Because the project was jammed through and there have been no real public hearings at the state or local levels, this is the first real dive into the Foxconn project details.”
The report looks at the structure of Foxconn, harsh working conditions at Foxconn operations in other countries, the company’s poor environmental and safety records, the generous state and local incentive packages, as well as construction plans, employment opportunities and infrastructure needs for the Wisconsin operation.
Some details from the lengthy document:
- “In China, Foxconn is known for ruthless efficiency.”
- A 2010 report from 20 Chinese universities described Foxconn factories as labor camps with widespread worker abuse and illegal overtime.
- “Micro-circuitry manufacturing depends on metals and acidic chemical treatment. Water is used to wash the product when it is newly manufactured to remove dust and other impurities. The water is then returned to the watershed.”
- “Foxconn may have paper-thin requirements to meet in the way of environmental protection.”
- “Foxconn’s permit application shows that the company plans to emit hundreds of tons of carbon monoxide, particulates, sulfur dioxide and various hazardous air pollutants.”
- “Foxconn has not yet submitted an air permit to build a separate glass manufacturing plant, which is an essential piece to the enterprise.”
- “Potential air emissions from the manufacture of printed circuit boards include: acids such as sulfuric, hydrochloric, phosphoric, nitric and acetic; chlorine; ammonia; and organic solvent vapors; … n-butyl acetate; xylene; petroleum distillates; and ozone depleting substances.”
- “Americans may be wary of whether Foxconn will actually open its Wisconsin operation.” The report cites several instances in which Foxconn’s planned investments didn’t materialize, including in Pennsylvania.
- “According to the Wisconsin Development Administration, the state is expected to ‘break-even’ on the state portion of the Foxconn incentive package by 2042–2043.”