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September 06, 2017

Foxconn Deal Must Respect Worker Freedom

By Phil Neuenfeldt (special to Union Labor News)

As Wisconsin considers shelling out $3 billion to subsidize the private corporation of Foxconn, legislators are moving at breakneck speed to hand over an incentive package that is both the largest in state history and the biggest to a foreign company in the U.S. The legislature is moving at lightning speed without sufficient time for adequate public input. Instead, Gov. Scott Walker and the legislature would be wise to proceed with caution to ensure that any Foxconn deal puts Wisconsin workers front and center.

Foxconn legislation and any subsequent deals that Gov. Walker or his Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) makes with Foxconn must protect the full American right to form a union, without fear or retaliation, and must promote Wisconsin workers first. No tax dollars for union busting. There must be strong claw back language to ensure that Foxconn doesn’t engage in union busting activity.

The Wisconsin State AFL-CIO has consistently advocated for economic development that spurs job creation and includes rights and protections for workers, “Buy Wisconsin” principles, increased technical college and training program grants, investments in infrastructure, and general aid to schools and municipalities.

Wisconsin workers are in real need of economic opportunity. If a multi-billion-dollar deal like Foxconn is going to be a benefit to our state, workers’ rights, skills, and safety must be prioritized. Wisconsin jobs must not be undermined by Foxconn hiring out-of-state or out-of-country workers.

This deal should be inked with ironclad protections for taxpayers, local governments, and most importantly, Wisconsin workers. The Wisconsin AFL-CIO has laid out a Statement of Principles, Foxconn Deal Must Work for Wisconsin’s Workers, to protect workers and taxpayers. These principles should be incorporated before Governor Walker signs any Foxconn deal. A fair Foxconn deal should reflect the Wisconsin values of family-supporting wages, strong workplace safety and the freedom to join a union free of harassment and retaliation.

Working people deserve the same freedom that CEOs have: the freedom to negotiate a fair return on our work so we can provide for our families. All workers within the Foxconn Manufacturing Zone must be absolutely guaranteed the full American right to assemble and organize. Workplaces are made safer, more secure, and the end-product more reliable when workers can come together as a team in union to negotiate without fear of retaliation.

Unfortunately, Foxconn’s record on workers’ rights is tragic and troubling. Foxconn has been cited repeatedly for safety violations and human rights abuses. Foxconn has taken to laying off tens of thousands of workers due to automation. Given the company’s past employment practices, it is imperative that any deal that uses taxpayer money to facilitate Foxconn’s ability to build a manufacturing and information technology factory or campus in Wisconsin include absolute and tangible protections for Wisconsin’s workers including wage and safety standards.

From the outset of this deal, every job within and associated with the Manufacturing Zone must be paid a family-supporting wage. Foxconn must agree to the precise number of jobs it intends to create, and a minimum number of years those jobs will exist and those jobs should come with affordable healthcare and fair retirement plans. Advertising that ten thousand jobs will be created is meaningless if after a few months the labor is replaced by imported robots. Foxconn must be held accountable for its promised number of jobs. Taxpayer dollars must be tied to real jobs: protecting investment means tough claw back provisions.

No one supports Made in America and Made in Wisconsin more than the proud men and women of the Wisconsin labor movement. Wisconsin deserves concrete reassurances that the jobs created by Foxconn are long-lasting, family-sustaining jobs with respect and dignity.

Phil Neuenfeldt is president of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO

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