Ron Johnson tells Wisconsin worker not to worry about losing jobs to South Carolina


The Wisconsin Republican continues to defend a top donor's decision to ship 1,000 jobs out of state.

A union worker pressed Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) on Wednesday about his refusal to push a local defense contractor to keep jobs in Wisconsin. Johnson argued that if a major Wisconsin business sends 1,000 jobs to South Carolina, it will be good for the Badger State.

In recent weeks, Johnson has been under fire for comments suggesting that Wisconsin already has plenty of jobs and for refusing to urge Oshkosh Defense — a manufacturing company based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, that is owned by one of Johnson's biggest campaign funders  — to build postal vehicles in the state.

The company, which received a massive contract last year to build the United States Postal Service's next generation of delivery vehicles, announced last June that it would create a new facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina, and would hire "over 1,000 local team members" there to manufacture the fleet.

Members of the United Automobile Workers union at the company have been pushing for Oshkosh Defense to instead build the vehicles in Wisconsin.

During a telephone town hall, a constituent named Jason — a self-described Johnson supporter and a member of UAW Local 578 who works at Oshkosh Defense — asked the senator why he is "in favor of moving the postal contract to South Carolina."

In response, Johnson blasted the media's coverage of his statements as "inaccurate" and "grossly dishonest reporting." He then went on to argue that his "job is not to micromanage a private company":

I've talked to the union, I met with the union president and, you know, five or six other representatives. I've talked to the company twice, I talked to the CEO on Monday to just gather all the information. Now, I come from a manufacturing background, I understand the realities of capacities, of timing, and all that type of thing. And again, what the company is telling me is the only way they could perform this contract, because there was not a suitable building, they did not have time to fill the contract.

Jason responded, telling Johnson, "Spending money on union workers and keeping the jobs in Oshkosh on a livable wage is more important."

The Republican senator answered that the real threat was that Oshkosh Defense's contract could get canceled "on some flimsy environmental excuse."

"As long as Oshkosh gets the contract, that will benefit Wisconsin, Oshkosh, and Oshkosh workers," Johnson argued. "A more financially stable company will benefit union workers and Oshkosh. You'll have the engineering, you'll have the management, who knows how many component parts might be shipped out of some of your plant locations and down to South Carolina."

But while Johnson parroted what the company's management told him, he ignored the counterarguments being made by UAW leaders.

"We have a huge pool of skilled laborers who are ready to get to work," Bob Lynk, the president of UAW Local 578, said in a discussion hosted by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) last Thursday.

"Our workmanship is second to none, so building the next fleet of USPS trucks will be something we are more than capable of handling. In addition, our workforce, we have the facilities to build these vehicles," Lynk added.

Johnson's loyalty to corporate management over Wisconsin workers is not surprising.

He has received at least $20,000 in corporate PAC donations from Oshkosh Corp., the parent company of Oshkosh Defense, over his political career. Its employees have given him at least $46,852 more in individual contributions. According to the nonpartisan research group OpenSecrets, that $66,852 total support ranks the business seventh among Johnson's top career contributors.

According to the AFL-CIO's legislative scorecard, Johnson has "voted with working people" just 8% of the time over his political career.

Despite promising to serve no more than two terms in the Senate, Johnson announced in January that he will seek a third term in November's midterm elections. Polls suggest that may be an uphill fight, given his approval ratings have sunk to around 35%.

In another telephone town hall last Tuesday, another constituent grilled Johnson about what he was doing to address the lack of "good-paying jobs" available in the state.

Johnson responded by telling the caller that "economic development is not universally distributed" and that "really good-paying jobs" are available, but "you do have to look around."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.