By Joe Preisler
Every community should have sustainable, long-term, good jobs now and for the future. Every level of government has a role to play to make that become a reality.
This bodes no higher truth than in areas that have had an economy highly dependent on defense contracts. The need to diversify the workforce in these areas such as Oshkosh (Oshkosh Corp.) is very evident. On June 27, Oshkosh Corp. finished another round of layoffs, bringing the total number of jobs lost in the past two years to 1,800.
If you focus on Oshkosh and look at the amount of people in the workforce and also at defense contracts awarded, they were both on a steady uptick from 1999 to 2008. Starting in 2009, the need for Oshkosh to produce defense materials soared, and in 2011 Oshkosh Corp. had over 5,000 employees with over 3,100 of them being hourly production positions. From February 2013 to June 2014, that number was cut by nearly two-thirds. This does not even begin to scratch the surface of the effect on supply chain businesses and losses incurred around the state.
2010 was the peak year for defense contracts in Wisconsin, with 7,500 contracts amounting to $8.8 billion. 2012 numbers amounted to just $2.9 billion. The budget continues to shrink as defense jobs drastically decrease.
I lived the pain of seeing jobs being stripped away firsthand as president of UAW Local 578, representing the hourly employees at Oshkosh Corp. This is a highly trained, highly skilled group of people that can flourish on peacetime work.
I often think about my work family in Marinette at Marinette Marine Corp. Following the news of late, the future of the littoral combat ship is up in the air. Our communities and state deserve a better future. There are other areas of work where we need more resources that also produce a higher number of jobs. The facts show that per $1 billion spent in the economy, two times the amount of education jobs can be created vs. military jobs (according to the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute).
Recently, the Office of Economic Adjustment of the U.S. Department of Defense awarded $837,000 with a $100,000 match to the 10-county area surrounding Oshkosh for diversification in the area and supply chain mapping. This could be the beginning of engaging the entire community to plan for our future.
The Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, Peace Action Wisconsin and other partner organizations are working to support labor, community groups and local elected officials to explore ways for the state to plan for how to transition from jobs depending on defense contracts to industries that can provide good-paying jobs well into the future.
In Connecticut, labor, community and state legislators are providing an opportunity for all the stakeholders to come together to plan for defense industry transition through bipartisan legislation at the state level, which created a Commission on Connecticut’s Future. It involves employer representatives, industry, small business and others to diversify the area for sustainable work to still handle any needs from the Department of Defense.
Shouldn’t we also have the opportunity to respond to the current job loss and plan for ways to create new jobs before any more are lost?
Joe Preisler is former president of UAW Local 578.