Vice President Kamala Harris praised the IBEW’s apprenticeship programs and said they are a key part of the Biden administration’s American Jobs Plan, which she promoted during a visit to Dover, N.H., Local 490 on April 23.
“I am here to hold up and highlight the important work that is being done right here at the IBEW around what we need to do to invest in the American workforce,” she said.
Harris said $100 billion in the proposed jobs plan will be invested in programs to train skilled construction workers, such as the IBEW’s apprenticeship instruction.
She also said she was impressed by the brotherhood’s commitment to bring traditionally underrepresented groups into the construction industry. Before her 15-minute speech, the vice president visited with Local 490 apprentice Kelli O’Connor and Boston Local 103 member Haley Kamberalis, who overcame a hearing disability to become a project manager.
Kamberalis also introduced Harris before a crowd in which people wore masks and were socially distance due to COVID-19 protocols.
“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.”
Hearing that was music to the ears of Local 490 Business Manager Marco Lacasse. Earlier that week, he and other Local 490 officials decided to admit two apprenticeship classes this year – which means about 40 apprentices -- instead of the usual one because of the growing demand.
Many of the incoming apprentices already have been working or attended college, he said. But they see the value of what the IBEW and Local 490 offers, especially with the Biden administration’s emphasis on improving America’s infrastructure.
“Let’s buckle up and get the American Jobs Plan passed so our infrastructure provides everything we deserve,” Lacasse said. “We’re too far behind. We need to put America first again and put Americans on the job with dignity and respect.”
The plan has received pushback from some members of Congress, mostly Republicans, who say the $2.3 trillion cost is too high – even though GOP-backed tax cuts for the wealthy during the Trump administration led to record federal deficits and did little to address the United States’ crumbling infrastructure.
Harris, however, said now is the time to think big, comparing it to when President Kennedy challenged the federal government to put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s. American astronauts first walked on the lunar surface in 1969.
“We said, ‘We are going to the moon’ and we planted a flag there,” she said.
The United States must have the same sense of urgency when it comes to improving infrastructure and rebuilding its domestic manufacturing base, she said.
“The very nature of who we are is we know how to aspire,” Harris said. “To see things that can be regardless of what has been. In our greatest moments, we have invested in that vision, where we agree we’re not going to be incremental in our approach.
“We’re not going to say we’re going to take it slow and one day at time. 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.”
She also noted the plan’s emphasis on rural America, including the call to improve the country’s broadband capability. She also defended its call for additional funding for childcare, saying it will allow more American workers access to jobs that lead to economic security for their families.
“This is something that is going to give people a great sense of hope about what is possible,” she said.
International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said Biden’s plan will “spur a renaissance in made-in-America manufacturing, bringing new jobs to American communities.”
“Every day the federal government does not act is another day we fall further behind our foreign competitors,” Stephenson added. “And the looming threat of climate change means we must move now to invest in clean energy technology that will slash carbon emissions and put millions to work.”
Others in attendance during Harris’ visit were New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen along with Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster, the Granite State’s two representatives in the House of Representatives.
Shaheen, a former New Hampshire governor, thanked Lacasse and Local 490 members for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic. She also mentioned International Representative Joe Casey, who lives in New Hampshire and has been a leader for many years on initiatives involving the IBEW and all of labor in the state.
“It has been the men and women of 490 who helped keep the lights on and kept our homes heated,” she said. “When the weather patterns were bad, they went out in the storm. They weren’t able to work from home.”
Harris noted this was her second visit to an IBEW local union in recent months.
In September of last year, when she was still a senator from California and serving as Biden’s running mate on the Democratic ticket, she visited Milwaukee Local 494’s training center.
“It’s great to be in the house of labor,” she said while kicking off her remarks.
Added Lacasse: “It was a great honor for all of us to host her visit and her message about improving the infrastructure with good-paying American jobs was just what we needed and wanted to hear.
“I also want to thank Vice President Harris for spending time with Kelli and Haley and her interest in our training programs. Local 490 members are ready to do whatever is necessary to build America back better.”