June 2, 2021
President Joe Biden proposed the largest investment in American infrastructure since World War II at the end of March, introduced by Mike Fiore, a member of Pittsburgh Local 29. Four weeks later he renewed his call for the $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan from the House floor, again with the IBEW at the heart of his pitch.
“The American Jobs Plan will put engineers and construction workers to work building more energy efficient buildings and homes. Electrical workers, IBEW members, installing 500,000 charging stations along our highways so we can own the electric car market,” he said. “For too long we’ve failed to use the most important word when it comes to meeting the climate crisis: Jobs. Jobs. Jobs.”
Over the last few decades, the American economy has boomed creating virtual things: the internet, logistics, housing bubbles and banking innovations. But all of that is built on the real world: ports, roads, fiber optic cables and transmission lines. And that real world has been crumbling, year after year, president after president.
“On a symbolic level, the president laying out this proposal with one of our own members introducing him was really important,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “But presidents have said nice things about us before and stabbed working people in the back. The American Jobs Plan is different.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life, and no president since Franklin Roosevelt has put organized labor and workers’ rights at the center of American policy like President Biden has with this plan.”
Nearly every forgotten corner of the American economy — and every branch of the IBEW — will be transformed for decades by this proposal if it passes, and it is backed by the strongest “Buy American” and labor protections ever proposed.
“I began my campaign in Pittsburgh saying I was running to rebuild the backbone of America. Today I return as president to lay out the vision of how we do that,” Biden said in Pittsburgh.
“Nearly 90% of the infrastructure jobs created in the American Jobs Plan do not require a college degree. Seventy-five percent don’t require an associate degree,” he told a joint session of congress. “The American Jobs Plan is a blue-collar blueprint to build America.”
The largest section of the proposal includes more than $600 billion for roads, bridges, ports and highways. There are 300 shovel-ready projects that would begin the day after the bill is signed. But unlike the 2009 infrastructure program passed while Biden was vice president, funding goes beyond shovel-ready projects to the deep, lasting transformational infrastructure that solves not only today’s problems but the ones that are coming.
“We are looking at hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of work hours for a decade and longer to improve Alaskan infrastructure,” said Anchorage Local 1547 Business Manager Marcie Obremski. “In the last 10 years Alaska has experienced two extreme weather events that cost the state about $1 billion. This work would improve our infrastructure, create redundancy and support our remote communities’ ability to recover from future disasters.”
The story is much the same across America, where roads, bridges, rails, airports and waterways have been left to crumble for decades.
“This plan will reverse all of that if we can get it passed,” said Political Director Austin Keyser. “We’re talking about an investment in America’s future, much of it in communities that have felt forgotten for a very long time, that will be transformational.”
Huntington, W.Va., Local 317 sits squarely in coal country and Business Manager Shane Wolfe said his people are desperate for work and investment.
“There is a lot of flat ground, rail and river near here and there is always a different rumor of facilities coming in: a tire recycling plant, coal gasification and gas generation, and nothing ever happens. We have the gas. We have space. We have the men and women ready to do the work. We just need someone to kickstart it,” he said. “If the president’s bill would pass, life would change here, and it’s about time it did.”
Modernizing the Grid and Expanding Broadband
After roads, bridges and ports, the next largest section of Biden’s plan is a $511 billion investment in the electric grid, broadband internet and the water system.
At least $300 billion is targeted specifically for grid modernization, including thousands of miles of new transmission lines to connect new generation to load, all to meet the president’s goal of carbon-free power generation nationwide by 2035.
The Americans for a Clean Energy Grid report estimates that there are at least 22 shovel-ready transmission projects that would be funded by this plan alone, creating more than 600,000 jobs related to transmission and another 640,000 jobs related to renewable energy.
The jobs plan would also transform the excruciatingly slow approval process for transmission, creating a Grid Deployment Authority at the Energy Department to focus development along existing rights-of-way — primarily roads and railways.
Clean energy tax credits would be extended for a decade and paired with strong labor standards.
Vacaville, Calif., Local 1245 Business Manager Bob Dean said it is hard to overstate the jobs that would be created if the need was realized in actual projects.
A single project with two 525-kilovolt HVDC transmission lines will put 4,000 IBEW members to work and will open vast stretches of Nevada to new development of solar and geothermal generation.
“Western states need more generation, but there is limited capacity on the grid,” he said. “This job in Nevada, we need this across the whole country.”
The plan also funds 15 demonstration decarbonized hydrogen generation plants and 10 large-scale carbon capture retrofits for steel, cement and chemical production facilities that could spur the expansion of the technology nationwide.
All of the government-supported projects will have “Buy American” requirements and strong labor standards with a “free and fair choice to join a union and bargain collectively.”
On top of the unprecedented grid investment, the president proposes to spend $100 billion for broadband expansion in underserved rural communities with no access to high-speed internet. That caught Wolfe’s eye since it just about describes him.
“I live right on the Ohio River and can’t do much better than dial-up speeds. And there are parts of southern West Virginia where the valleys are so steep people don’t get satellite access for more than a few minutes a day,” he said.
Vice President Kamala Harris will be in charge of the broadband rollout and she spoke about its importance during a visit to Dover, N.H., Local 490’s hall on April 23.
“We’re not going to say, ‘We’re going to take it slow’ and ‘One day at time,'” Harris said. “We say, ‘Let’s be big.’ When we set the bar high, the very nature of American aspiration is that we always jump for it and we do it.”
And to make sure the nation has the workers with the skills to do these new jobs, there is $100 billion for workforce training, including nearly $50 billion to support pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs specifically targeting areas of the country and populations most harmed by the move to a fully carbon-free economy.
“If we’re going to build back better, we have to invest in skills development of the workforce,” Harris said. “To do that, if we are going to get the greatest return on our investment, let’s invest in the IBEW. Let’s invest in the building trades. Let’s invest in those apprenticeship programs that for as long as we can remember have been some of the best at passing along the skills that will build us back up.”
Revitalizing Manufacturing and Transportation
Perhaps the most transformational change included in Biden’s proposal are the strong “Buy American” provisions included throughout the plan.
Too often, American workers rebuilding roads and digital and electric infrastructure are using equipment and supplies from overseas, ignoring America’s deep manufacturing history.
Simply putting in “Buy American” clauses hasn’t worked in the past because there was no way to ramp production. The American Jobs Plan targets $300 billion to expand the domestic supply chain for critical industries and to refill the nation’s strategic stockpile of medical goods.
“All the investments in the American Jobs Plan will be guided by one principle: Buy American. Buy American,” Biden said before Congress. “There’s no reason why American workers can’t lead the world in the production of electric vehicles and batteries. … There is simply no reason why the blades for wind turbines can’t be built in Pittsburgh instead of Beijing. … American tax dollars are going to be used to buy American products, made in America, to create American jobs. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.”
This is how a one-time investment in infrastructure becomes a lifetime of work for our members, said Manufacturing Director Brian Lamm.
“Seventy-five years ago, when we first built the interstate highway system and the national grid, all of the parts were made in North America, and the IBEW had a million members. We can get back there,” Lamm said.
The president also included what he called “the largest non-defense expansion of research and development in the nation’s history:” $180 billion focused on developing an American manufacturing base for the technologies that will fight climate change and dominate 21st-century economies, including semiconductors and advanced computing, advanced communications technology and advanced energy technologies.
None of these matter for working families unless the new jobs are good, union jobs, so in his announcement President Biden urged Congress, once again, to pass the PRO Act, the most dramatic expansion of workers’ rights protections since the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935.
He also insisted that all federal investments in clean energy and infrastructure be tied to prevailing wages and require transportation investments to meet existing transit labor protections.
“Unions built the middle class. It’s about time they start to get a piece of the action,” Biden said.
He said his vision for the infrastructure plan was “not seen through the eyes of Wall Street or Washington. People like Mike [Fiore]. Union workers. People looking for a little bit of breathing room. People looking for a little bit of light.”
The single largest item in the plan, a $174 billion investment in electrifying the transportation sector, brings manufacturing together with construction to revolutionize the way Americans get from place to place.
That money includes a grant program for 500,000 EV chargers by 2030, a vital first step in the move to an all-electric fleet.
Electrification won’t just matter in cities, said Wolfe.
“The car changing stations will be huge for Local 317. It will be huge. It isn’t the future; it’s now,” he said. Local 317’s jurisdiction includes parts of Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia. Much of it is rural but the Ohio Valley could be an industrial utopia because it sits on one of the richest natural gas shales in the world and has access to the Mississippi River. All those trucks will need charging.
“We’re ready; let’s get our people doing this work in these rural areas now,” Wolfe said.
And all of those charging stations will be built in the U.S., with labor protections creating the market for a manufacturing renewal, and it puts the IBEW at the forefront of an industry that will massively grow in the next few decades.
“Five hundred thousand is a spit in the ocean, but it’s the start we need,” Dean said. “Northern California alone will need close to 1 million chargers to complete the transition to an electrified transportation sector. How great would it be if IBEW wiremen installed charging stations built by IBEW manufacturing members powered by a grid built by IBEW linemen and powered by IBEW utility workers?”
To pay for the plan, Biden says he will partially reverse the catastrophic corporate tax cut passed four years ago, still leaving the rate 7% lower than it was during the economic boom when he was vice president.
He also plans to increase funding to the IRS’s corporate audit department, finally giving it the resources to take on the tax scofflaws in the Fortune 500. Fully 91 companies in that elite group paid nothing in federal taxes in 2018.
The Biden plan proposes a minimum corporate tax, based not on the income they report to the IRS but the amount they report to their shareholders.
The bitterness of politics in recent years has been driven by a feeling that millions of Americans have been cut adrift from the promise of a better life.
“For four decades, we tried giving the rich all the money, hoping they would invest in the rest of us, but they never did. They never do,” Stephenson said. “This plan takes a chance on the American people by giving them the tools to build better than we were before, brighter than things have ever been.”
The choice, Biden said, is simple: figure out a way to address the challenges of the 21st century or watch the nation fade and, with it, the promise that free people can solve the problems they face.
“You know, there’s a lot of autocrats in the world who think the reason why they’re going to win is democracies can’t reach consensus any longer; autocracies do. That’s what competition between America and China and the rest of the world is all about. It’s a basic question: Can democracies still deliver for their people? Can they get a majority?” he said. “I believe we can. I believe we must.”
And for those who claim the price is too much to pay, Biden said watching the nation crumble has its own, much higher cost.
“Failing to make these investments adds to our debt and effectively puts our children at a disadvantage relative to our competitors. That’s what crumbling infrastructure does,” he said. “What’s more, it heightens our vulnerability, attracts our adversaries to compete in ways that they haven’t up to now. We can afford to make them — or, put another way, we can’t afford not to.”
Stephenson urged every member to reach out to their senators and representatives and tell them it is time to get America working.
“We cannot afford to keep on the sideline. No matter who you voted for in November, we need to choose working people now,” he said. “This is generations of work, IBEW work, and this is our best shot to get it, to grab a future worth handing down to our children.”
|■ $621 Billion in Transportation Infrastructure and Resilience
■ $511 Billion for Grid, Water, and Broadband
■ $310 Billion for Housing
|■ $247 Billion for Retooling Manufacturing
■ $100 Billion for Workforce Development
■ $135 Billion for Schools
■ $180 Billion for Research and Development
■ $18 Billion for Veteran Administration Hospitals