By Kathy Chouteau
U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh visited RichmondBUILD with Rep. Mark DeSaulnier Wednesday to promote the Biden-Harris administration’s investments in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the Build Back Better agenda with local community leaders and stakeholders.
The visit followed Tuesday’s passage in the Senate of an approximate $1 trillion infrastructure bill to update roads, bridges, rail system, power grids, Internet connections and other issues nationwide, according to The Washington Post. The bill includes funding to kickstart more job training programs, such as RichmondBUILD’s, and to encourage more women into the construction industry. The bill next moves on to the House of Representatives.
RichmondBUILD’s work focuses on training people in the construction and renewable energy fields, relevant to the current legislation. Rep. DeSaulnier, whose opening remarks preceded the secretary’s, called the program “transformative” and said that it “gives us the ability to give future employment to the Bay Area and Richmond…an opportunity to be the best in the world.”
Rep. DeSaulnier added that the secretary was on hand Wednesday to ensure the Biden Administration knows that Contra Costa County and the Bay Area works with “our brothers and sisters in organized labor and that we are ready for the future.”
Secretary Walsh said RichmondBUILD is “giving young people…opportunities for success in life” and referenced President Biden speaking about “Building Back Better” and what those words mean: “How do we strengthen America? How do we strengthen the American worker? How we shape the American economy? How we create opportunities and pathways?”
The secretary said the infrastructure bill “literally sets the trajectory our country in a whole different direction for the next century” by making investments in “roads and bridges, clean drinking water and driving electric—all the things that are physical infrastructure.”
Also on the secretary’s agenda is working with Rep. DeSaulnier in Congress “to make sure we pass the other bill—the Reconciliation Bill—which is…people working in the workforce in job training, people working in workforce development…in our schools and different places.” The bills’ impact, he said, will continue to keep America competitive globally.
As much investment as possible in job training and workforce development is needed to repurpose workers and train new ones as the country transitions toward becoming “less reliant on fossil fuel and more reliant on alternative sources,” the secretary added.
“This is not a Democratic issue, this is not a Republican issue. This is about the future of our country,” underscored Secretary Walsh.
Following their initial remarks, Secretary Walsh and Rep. DeSaulnier took some questions from the crowd. A man identifying himself as Gary from Local 324 asked, “What does the Infrastructure Bill do for the RichmondBUILD program—our type of program that teaches us to work in the workforce in construction?”
Secretary Walsh responded, in part, that the bill “creates a pipeline of construction work in this country.”
“The first bill is a bipartisan bill,” added Rep. DeSaulnier, calling it a “historical transformation” with packages “to build back better and help working people.” He elaborated that “the second part gives you the rest of the infrastructure; it has free, quality early education for kids.”
Other questions surrounded topics like affordable housing, more women in the trades and childcare for working parents.
Regarding affordable housing, Secretary Walsh said that the original infrastructure package had money included for government housing nationwide and that there’s still money in it for building new housing.
“The assumption is, if you’re making more money, you’ll have the ability to pay to get ahead,” he said. The secretary added that while the bigger issue of housing can be addressed on a local level, the bills present an opportunity to really think about putting more money in the economy to create more housing in communities. President Biden is “very focused on making sure this bill is equitable,” he added.
When it comes to women in the trades and childcare, Secretary Walsh said “we have to do better as a country” and emphasized that “our focus is to get women into the trades in general and we have to work with local authorities to make sure that some of the numbers over trade on the job space are more representative of what the community looks like.” Build Back Better will have “major investments” in childcare, he reiterated.
After the event, Richmond Mayor Tom Butt weighed in with the Standard on secretary’s visit, saying he’s “really excited about it” because RichmondBUILD “deserves recognition as one of the outstanding job training programs in the country.”
“I think having the recognition of [Secretary Walsh] being here is going to enhance our opportunity to get funding and to expand our program.”