Oshkosh Defense’s namesake plant could make USPS vehicles, but it appears the jobs are heading for non-union conditions in South Carolina.
If Oshkosh Defense sticks to its plan to create more than 1,000 new manufacturing jobs in South Carolina instead of its namesake plant in Wisconsin, that’s fine by Sen. Ron Johnson—himself a resident of the city that could have benefited from any lobbying on his part.
Speaking to reporters Saturday, the Republican running for a third term said he would leave it to the company to decide where to fulfill a government contract to build 165,000 vehicles for the US Postal Service.
“It’s not like we don’t have enough jobs here in Wisconsin,” Johnson said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “The biggest problem we have in Wisconsin right now is employers not being able to find enough workers. I wouldn’t insert myself to demand that anything be manufactured here using federal funds in Wisconsin.”
Oshkosh Defense, a subsidiary of specialty vehicle maker Oshkosh Corp., was awarded a USPS contract nearly a year ago to manufacture “next-generation” delivery vehicles. Four months later, the company said it would locate the project—and its estimated 1,000 jobs—in South Carolina. Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin has been lobbying the company to use the already-experienced union workforce in Oshkosh. Last week, the Biden administration indicated it might scrap the contract entirely unless the amount of clean energy vehicles in the fleet is greatly expanded.
Reaction came swiftly from the field of Democratic candidates hoping to challenge Johnson in November.
“He just doesn’t understand economic development,” said Tom Nelson, the county executive in nearby Outagamie County. “It’s mind blowing, breathtaking.”
Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes called it “outrageous, and time for him to go.”
State Treasurer Sarah Godlewski tweeted, “Ron Johnson doesn’t give a sh*t about Wisconsin workers. But I do. That’s why I’m running.”
Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry posted, “Ron Johnson is out of touch with the needs of Wisconsinites. We need to beat him in November.”
Responding Monday to the criticism, Johnson claimed “the liberal media has taken my remarks and spun them for their own narrative.”
Johnson’s remarks came after appearing at a “parent empowerment rally.” The event announcement said Johnson would encourage attendees to run for local offices like school boards “in order to take back our culture.” Another speaker was slated to talk about “critical race theory,” which isn’t actually taught in Wisconsin schools but has become conservativeshorthand for criticizing efforts to teach a fuller version of American history that acknowledges centuries of unfair treatment of Black Americans.