Labor Secretary Marty Walsh promotes Pres. Biden’s American Jobs Plan as agenda battles GOP criticism

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Marty Walsh made several stops in Milwaukee in an effort to push President Joe Biden’s jobs and infrastructure agenda as the plan faces Republican criticism over its scope and the administration’s handling of the country’s economic recovery.

Walsh’s first stop was at Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership – Big Step. The organization helps with training people to enter the skilled trades labor field. The labor secretary toured the facility, met with leaders and students.

The stop also featured a roundtable discussion with Walsh and students, that also included Governor Tony Evers, Congresswoman Gwen Moore and County Executive David Crowley.

Many of the roundtable’s participants pointed to child care as an urgent need for them and others in their field to be able to attain and maintain steady work.

“It was am I going to work or am I going to take care of my kids?” Shantel Collins told the group, explaining the difficult choice placed on her and others she knows. Collins is a single mother who lost the father of her children to gun violence. Collins told CBS 58 she felt heard by the leaders.

“It was an amazing feeling to be in the same room as them,” Collins said afterwards. “To feel the receptivity to my own emotions, it was definitely well-felt.”

Proponents of the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan – which include hundreds of millions of dollars dedicated to child care – believe the lack of child care options is a hurdle that is preventing many from re-entering the workforce after the pandemic.

Republicans, including Congressman Bryan Steil (R – Janesville) point to the extra $300 in unemployment benefits as a reason for the state’s worker shortage.

In a statement, Steil told CBS 58, in part, “employers across Southeast Wisconsin are cutting their hours and services due to the worker shortage. The focus of the Secretary’s visit should be on helping workers get back to work, not wasting taxpayer dollars with the Biden stay at home bonus.”

But Walsh disagrees on the extra benefits as the reason for worker shortages.

“No, not really,” Walsh told reporters. “I don’t think it’s as much as everyone is saying it’s happening. We’re talking about $300 extra that people are trying to keep a roof over their head, food on the table.”

At a second stop, Walsh met with immigrant rights advocacy group Voces de la Frontera. The organization has pushed the Biden administration to include items like citizenship for undocumented essential workers, including undocumented immigrants as recipients of benefits in future pandemic relief bills and a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. The group pushed Walsh to relay their demands to President Biden.

“Myself and my members are extremely honored by the secretary’s visit and the dialogue we could have and the commitment we got out of this meeting,” Voces Executive Director Christine Neumann-Ortiz told CBS 58.

In his third and final public stop of the day, Walsh highlighted Milwaukee’s ongoing project to replace 70,000 lead pipes.

“It’s a health issue, it’s a child care issue, it’s a worker training issue and it’s an economic development issue,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett told reporters at the site.

GOP critics argue much of Biden’s infrastructure agenda includes items that are not part of traditional infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and other construction projects.

Walsh and the Biden administration are standing firm on the idea of broadening what infrastructure means and the impact the plan could have to lift workers in the country.

“When we think about the American Jobs Plan it really is about an investment in the American workforce,” Walsh said.

Walsh said he expects a stronger jobs report when it is released next week.

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