VP Harris announces federal apprenticeship program during Madison visit

Wednesday's visit is the VP's second of 2024

Vice President Kamala Harris delivers remarks Wednesday, March 6, 2024, during a visit to Madison, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

During the latest of a series of Biden administration stops in Wisconsin, Vice President Kamala Harris announced an apprenticeship program for the federal workforce while in Madison Wednesday.

Harris spoke at a construction site that will eventually house the city’s fleet of electric buses. The city broke ground on the site just three weeks ago with the help of roughly $13 million in federal funding from President Joe Biden’s infrastructure act. 

“The work that is happening here really is a wonderful example of so many of our administration’s priorities, including the important collaboration between us at the federal level and leaders at the local level,” Harris said

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Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway joined the vice president on a tour of the site that will charge and store 65 electric buses. 

Harris met with workers at the site, including first-year apprentice Damien Escobedo. He told Harris he sought an apprenticeship in order to give his 19-month-old son Ayven a more stable life. 

“I was working just a bunch of jobs and eventually got to the point where I was like, well, I need to settle down,” said Escobedo, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 159. “So I chose electrical because…I didn’t see it as just a job, you know, I saw it as a career — something that I can do for a long period of time and actually build my family.” 

Vice President Kamala Harris, right, walks into a construction site Wednesday, March 6, 2024, during a visit to Madison, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)
Vice President Kamala Harris, center, Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su, left, and Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, right, walk together Wednesday, March 6, 2024, during a visit to Madison, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

It was Harris’ sixth trip to the state overall and her second this year. 

She visited Waukesha County on Jan. 22 to mark the 51st anniversary of the Roe v Wade decision. That visit kicked off her “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” tour. 

The White House also announced a new 30-member task force on apprenticeships Wednesday, which will include 10 labor leaders. 

“By supporting workers and our unions, the Biden Administration is working to bring balance and fairness to our economy so that it works for everyone, not just the wealthy and big corporations,” Wisconsin AFL-CIO president Stephanie Bloomingdale said in a statement.  

Union workers are an important part of the Biden-Harris coalition, and the campaign needs to keep them motivated through election day. 

In Wisconsin, union membership rebounded slightly in 2023. The estimated number of union members in the state increased from roughly 187,000 in 2022 to about 204,000 last year, according to data from Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unionization rate in Wisconsin also increased from 7.1 percent of workers in 2022 to 7.4 percent last year.

Unionized workers scored high-profile victories last year, including big pay increases for part-time UPS drivers, airline pilots and auto workers. Wisconsin saw a flurry of new union organizing and strikes, including UAW locals that joined that union’s national strike. 

“When we invest in the American people, including the American worker, everyone benefits,” Harris said. 

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to apprentices Wednesday, March 6, 2024, during a visit to Madison, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)
Vice President Kamala Harris, center, takes a photo with Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway, left, Acting Secretary of Labor Julie Su, right, and the apprentices Wednesday, March 6, 2024, during a visit to Madison, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

The administration has kept a steady clip of Wisconsin visits that is expected to continue through the general election. First Lady Jill Biden visited Waukesha last weekend, touting her husband’s position on reproductive rights and said another Donald Trump presidency would be dangerous for women. 

Biden visited Superior Jan. 25 to promote how the $1 trillion infrastructure law is providing a critical billion-dollar investment to replace a deteriorating bridge that serves as a vital link between the city and Duluth.

Recent polling shows a tight race in Wisconsin. The most recent Emerson College poll, conducted Feb. 22-24,  showed former President Donald Trump ahead 45 percent to 42 percent for Biden. 

The most recent Marquette University Law School poll showed Trump leading by three percentage points among registered voters and two percentage points among likely voters. That poll was in the field Jan 24-31. 

Vice President Kamala Harris turns back to answer a reporter’s question as she exits Wednesday, March 6, 2024, during a visit to Madison, Wis. (Angela Major/WPR)

Republicans responded to Harris’ visit on a Zoom call with reporters. 

“The good wages that come from a hard working job that many of these apprenticeships will ultimately lead to find their wages getting gobbled up by the inflation that the Biden administration has wrought by the reckless policies,” said Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Janesville.

Former President Donald Trump is now the only remaining active candidate for the Republican nomination after former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley suspended her bid

Trump’s Super Tuesday victories left him with roughly 83 percent of delegates needed to secure the nomination

Biden has faced nominal opposition from Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minnesota, but has work to do to unite his party. After a much-publicized campaign to vote “uncommitted” in the Michigan primary yielded more than 100,000 votes, a similar campaign launched in Wisconsin. 

The campaign is asking voters to list themselves as “uninstructed” on the Democratic primary ballot.  

Biden defeated Trump by about 154,000 votes in Michigan in 2020. In Wisconsin, Biden’s margin was 20,682 votes. 

Organizers with the “uninstructed” anti-Biden campaign say they are aiming for 20,000 votes in the primary in protest of Biden’s handling of Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza. 

Democrats will also have to contend with a Green Party candidate on Wisconsin’s ballot in November.

When Green Party nominee Jill Stein was on the ballot in 2016, she won more than 31,000 votes in Wisconsin. That was greater than former Trump’s 22,748-vote margin of victory over Democrat Hilary Clinton. No Green Party candidate was on the ballot in 2020.