Milwaukee Common Council Questions Foxconn’s Hiring Goals

Workforce Diversity Primary Concern For Council

Land for Foxconn plant in Mount Pleasant
Land in the Village of Mount Pleasant where the Foxconn plant will be located. Chuck Quirmbach/WPR

Some members of the Milwaukee Common Council are questioning Foxconn Technology Group’s promise to hire a diverse workforce when building and operating its planned LCD screen factory in Racine County.

On Thursday, the council’s Steering and Rules Committee heard from Matt Moroney of the Wisconsin Department of Administration, who is serving as the state’s liaison for the Foxconn project, and Adam Jelen, of Gilbane Building Company, the lead contractor for the Foxconn complex.

A Foxconn representative was also scheduled to appear at the meeting Thursday but had to cancel last minute due to a scheduling conflict.

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While Foxconn and Gilbane are still solidifying construction plans for the complex, they expect to break ground in the next six weeks. Throughout the planning process, Foxconn and the state created and continue to add to a supply chain network of firms that will supply goods and services to the factory — many of which are Wisconsin-based.

Much of Thursday’s discussion centered on a state contract signed last fall that did not spell out workplace diversity requirements that are typically found in public works projects.

Moroney told the committee it’s difficult to get specific when thousands of people have to be hired during a time of relatively low unemployment.

“This is a project of such huge magnitude, you see the number of people involved on the construction side, the number of employees on the overall side, and kind of where we’re at as far our unemployment rate, and just the logistics of it,” Moroney said.

Instead of workplace diversity requirements, Moroney said the company has set hiring goals.

Jelen chimed in saying the goals agreed to by Foxconn are to have 60 percent of the firms be Wisconsin-based, 10 percent be based in Racine County, and 10 percent be “targeted firms,” owned by a combination of racial minorities, veterans and women.

Jelen said in terms of the workforce, their goal is to have 70 percent be from Racine County, with a total of 10 percent of their workforce be people of color, veterans and women.

“You have to remember the scale of this,” Jelen said. Adding that he realizes there’s a big pool of potential workers in the city of Milwaukee, but that an analysis will take place to match the number of available workers with the work that’s scheduled.

Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman drove the questioning about workplace diversity during the committee meeting.

Afterwards, Bauman told reporters there are too many uncertainties in Foxconn’s plan.

“Their goals — they’re not enforceable,” Bauman said. “I wouldn’t take it to the bank. I wasn’t impressed at all. We just basically got an hour of propaganda.”

Also speaking to reporters after the meeting, Moroney said, “We have a partnership with Foxconn. It’s a very valuable partnership. We’ve seen nothing but a strong commitment by the company to put Wisconsin first, right? That commitment is there.”

Moroney added, “We will let actions speak louder than words. Outreach is already happening from the Department of Workforce Development to get people engaged in training programs. I think there’s more to come as we move forward. We’re at the very early stages of this project.”

Moroney was also asked about the Foxconn groundbreaking, but excused himself saying he had to leave.