While much of the criticism of a U.S. Postal Service deal with Oshkosh Defense for a new fleet has focused on the fact that most vehicles will be gas-guzzling versus electric, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Tuesday got a USPS official to admit the agency isn't concerned the Wisconsin-based firm plans to build the trucks in notoriously anti-union South Carolina.
Near the end of a U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing, the New York Democrat questioned Victoria Stephen, executive director of the Postal Service's Next Generation Delivery Vehicle (NGDV) Program, about whether the USPS considered Oshkosh's unionized workforce in Wisconsin and when the agency knew about the company's location decision.
After noting that the nearly $3 billion contract, first announced in early 2021, will include an initial order of 50,000 NGDVs—only 10,000 of which will be electric vehicles (EVs)—Ocasio-Cortez asked about whether Oshkosh's unionized workforce in Wisconsin "was an important consideration" or regarded as a "favorable element" in the decision-making process—particularly given President Joe Biden's support for union labor.
"The solicitation from the Postal Service requires domestic production only. It does not require particular locations or workforce," Stephen explained. A unionized workforce "is not a contract requirement... It was not considered in the decision."
After entering some reports into the record, Ocasio-Cortez asked Stephen about Oshkosh's decision to complete production in South Carolina rather than Wisconsin, a revelation that came after the company won the contract.
"The Postal Service was made aware of that decision shortly before the public announcement and it is a decision that's at the discretion of the supplier," Stephen said.
Ocasio-Cortez then asked, "Are you aware that Oshkosh Defense might be trying to circumvent its long-standing contract with the United Auto Workers workforce in Wisconsin by essentially building a brand-new facility after the contract was awarded in a vacant warehouse in South Carolina?"
The USPS official said that "I have no awareness of that but I would encourage you to have that conversation with Oshkosh."
Highlighting that "after the ink was dry, it looks like they're opening up a scab facility in South Carolina with no prior history of producing vehicles in that facility," Oscaio-Cortez asked Stephen if the Postal Service "is troubled by this timeline at all."
Stephen appeared to challenge the facts as the congresswoman laid them out—but offered no details or clarifications—then confirmed that the USPS is not concerned with the timeline of the company's South Carolina decision.
In a tweet about the exchange Tuesday, Ocasio-Cortez took aim at embattled Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, declaring that "he needs to go."
When the USPS announced the contract last year, it said that "Oshkosh Defense is evaluating which of their several U.S. manufacturing locations is best suited to potentially increase the production rate of the NGDV."
Oshkosh Corporation executive vice president and Oshkosh Defense president John Bryant then revealed in June that the company planned to create about 1,000 new jobs in South Carolina, saying that "we're proud to bring this historic undertaking to Spartanburg County."
"South Carolina has a skilled workforce and a proven history in advanced automotive manufacturing—it's the perfect place to produce the NGDV," he said. "More importantly, we know the people of the Upstate take pride in their work and their community. What we build together here will reach every home in the country."
The Guardian reported in February that Oshkosh "chose to use a large, empty, former Rite Aid warehouse in Spartanburg. The company said it was eager to have a 'turnkey' plant where it could quickly begin production to help meet its goal of delivering the first vehicles in 2023."
The newspaper detailed outrage over the decision among Wisconsinites:
"We are extremely disappointed in Oshkosh Defense's decision to accept the money from the U.S. Postal Service and then turn around and send their production to a different state," said Stephanie Bloomingdale, president of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO union federation. "This is just another slap in the face to Wisconsin workers. People are very outraged about it. It doesn't fit into President Biden's vision to have high-road manufacturing."
Many Oshkosh Defense workers are wearing buttons to work, saying, "We Can Build This." These workers, members of the United Auto Workers (UAW), say they're dismayed that the company—unionized since 1938—plans to do postal vehicle production in one of the nation's most anti-union states. UAW Local 578 in Oshkosh has collected over 1,500 signatures urging the company to rescind its South Carolina decision, and Wisconsin's unions are planning a big rally in February to further pressure Oshkosh Defense.
"When we were notified the company won the contract, we were all excited—that's another contract under our belt, more work for us to do," said Thomas Bowman, a welder at Oshkosh Defense. "But when we were told it wasn't being built here, we were all asking, why not? We know we can build it. We got the workers. We got the tooling. It can be done here."
During that February rally, UAW Local 578 president Bob Lynk told a local television station that "it's a fight for our life right now. I do believe contracts are meant to be amended."
In a lengthy statement responding to the rally, Oshkosh signaled it won't reconsider the move, saying that "we evaluated sites in multiple states, including Wisconsin, for production of the NGDV. The Spartanburg, South Carolina facility ranked highest in meeting the requirements of the NGDV program and gives us the best ability to meet the needs of the USPS."
Meanwhile, in Congress, some Democrats are pushing for even broader changes. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) last month introduced the Green Postal Service Fleet Act, which would block the Oshkosh contract by requiring that at least 75% of new USPS vehicles are electric or otherwise emissions-free.
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