Union leaders are calling on local governments to do more to protect workers the next time they offer tax incentive agreements to companies.
Union members rallied Monday night in Uptown Normal ahead of the Normal Town Council meeting. They’re looking for a commitment from governments to include local-worker protections in future incentive deals, said Mike Raikes, business manager and financial secretary for Bloomington-based IBEW Local 197. The “simplest” version of that, he said, was tying projects to the state’s prevailing wage act. Another option is to require a Project Labor Agreement for any incentives.
"We continually see tax incentive agreements approved by the Town of Normal council. These agreements are great for business. However, without including provisions for the local workforce, we continue to see foreign and out-of-state workers on these projects reaping the benefits,” Raikes said Monday.
Raikes pointed to the incentive agreement for electric automaker Rivian approved by taxing bodies almost four years ago.
“There just wasn’t any labor provisions put into the agreement. As a result, we’re seeing foreign workforce used,” Raikes said.
He said at least 18 “foreign workers” are helping set up Rivian’s new paint shop. That’s part of a major retooling of Rivian’s manufacturing plant that’s getting it ready for truck, SUV and van production in 2021. Rivian is investing over $750 million in the plant.
“(The foreign workers) are welding and grinding metal, setting steel, setting tanks, running forklifts,” Raikes said. “These are all jobs that a normal building and construction tradesman or woman who goes through an apprenticeship is fully capable of completing.”
Rivian was not required to hire locally for the tearout and remodeling inside the plant, so it’s not in violation of its incentive agreements with taxing bodies. Its local property tax breaks are tied to the hiring of full-time employees in Normal, not temporary construction workers.
Rivian met its minimum hiring threshold for 2019 and appears on pace to do so again in 2020. It has 350 full-time staff in Normal with plans to hire hundreds more.
Rivian says most of its recent construction help has been union workers. For the week of June 22, Rivian said around 89% of on-site construction work was performed by union laborers—or 516 of the 579 contractors on the property.
Rivian’s general contractors are directed to utilize local trades as often as possible within time and cost constraints, said spokesperson Zach Dietmeier.
“We have been in discussions with a growing number of trades since Rivian’s arrival in Normal,” Dietmeier said. “We look forward to continuing strong and growing relationships with our local trades.”
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