RICHMOND — Though his trip long had been planned, U.S Labor Secretary Marty Walsh made two stops Wednesday in Contra Costa County to talk about jobs on the day after the Senate approved a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that aims to create lots of them.
Walsh’s visit was part of a broader roadshow to promote federal plans for infrastructure spending, and he used the occasion to promise East Bay union workers that their jobs and wages will be secure into the future if Congress passes the bill — a bipartisan victory for President Joe Biden. The House of Representatives must still vote.
The bill would send billions of dollars to individual states for road repairs, broadband internet, water system upgrades and other public work improvements.
Walsh tried to assure plumbers and steamfitters in Concord and members of a Richmond-based trade jobs training program that all looks bright despite an imminent shift in California’s economy to more eco-friendly jobs.
“There seems to be this natural conflict between environmentalists and, say, construction workers,” Walsh said at a news conference. “We don’t necessarily need that — we need to have more conversations (with unions). The president was very clear when he talked about his environmental package… he led by saying, ‘I want to create good union-paying jobs.’ ”
“In Contra Costa, there can be both,” agreed Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, who accompanied Walsh in Concord and Richmond. “We’re not leaving anybody behind, we don’t have to. We’ve got the skilled workers to do that.”
He and Walsh noted that about $100 billion has been allocated in the infrastructure bill for training workers to adapt to a greener energy sector.
DeSaulnier also gave a nod to California’s controversial high-speed rail project, saying he supports the idea of a “world-class transportation system,” but emphasized it would need to be built with union jobs. He couldn’t say how much money from the infrastructure bill may be tapped to help pay for it.
He also wouldn’t speculate about potential East Bay infrastructure improvements that might be funded, although he noted that charging stations for electric vehicles could be a priority for local governments that receive some of the money.
Pipe-fitters and plumbers arriving to work at the UA 342 Training Center in Concord told this news organization that Senate approval of the infrastructure bill was good news and they don’t feel their trade is threatened by an evolving economy because pipes and plumbing will still be needed.
“UA’s given me everything I have,” said Niko Gonsalvez, a Vacaville resident who currently welds pipes for PG&E. “You’re making really good money at a really young age… PG&E’s got us all over, all the way down south to all the way up north.”
Members of the RichmondBUILD and YouthBUILD workers-in-training programs said some jobs are more in demand than others.
Richmond resident Jeffrey Garcia, 21, said he felt good about how he performed on a recent heat and frost insulator test, but that’s only the first step to securing work.
“I got my hopes up, but I know I’m on the waiting list,” Garcia said. “If you pass, it’s a waiting game to see if there’s a job for you.”