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Milwaukee labor unions could have a solution for the nation's childcare crisis

Childcare is not working, for many working families. And in the construction trades, where the days are long, and the work starts early, that struggle is magnified.
Posted at 5:48 AM, Sep 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-11 07:53:22-04

MILWAUKEE — Childcare is not working, for many working families. And in the construction trades, where the days are long, and the work starts early, that struggle is magnified.

Milwaukee is one of two cities in the country to launch a pilot program — actively working to help provide affordable and accessible childcare so parents can get to work.

TMJ4 News first reported on the pilot program and how it could help solve America's skilled worker shortage, in the spring of 2023. That program is now being extended.

Ashley Szweda is a labor worker helping to build the Baird Center. She has a new baby and her daycare doesn't open a minute before 6:00 a.m., the same time she's expected to be clocked in, and ready to work.

"If I was an employer I wouldn't hire me," said Szweda. "I'd hire somebody who can get there on time."

And it's not just the hours of operation that make daycare a challenge. Szweda says her monthly childcare bill is more than her mortgage. "Regular daycare is pushing $400 a week for a child under two."

Szweda is among 10 families currently getting financial help from the Milwaukee childcare pilot called Building Blocks.

"Thank God, it was a little bit of a break," she recalled, "But then it's like — I can't even get there on time so you meet one hurdle and then you have another obstacle to overcome."

Just this year the Association of Builders and Contractors estimates there will be 500,000 unfilled construction jobs. Unions say women could be the answer. But the reality is affordable childcare, that can accommodate early days and long hours, is a major barrier for both women and men.

"This is a problem that will withhold our economy from reaching its full potential if we don't figure this out, and figure it out quickly," said Sean McGarvey, the president of North America's Building Trades Unions (NABTU).

NABTU, the Milwaukee Building-Construction Trades Council and EmpowHer, have collaborated with TradesFutures, a national non-profit, to provide childcare subsidies for local working families.

"I think that we really need to have at least two years of good data, good feedback, really learning from families before we can go out and tell people what we think is going to work best," explained Executive Director of Trades Futures, Nicole Schwartz.

Milwaukee's pilot program has recently been extended for an additional year. After that the future, and the funding, is a question mark. "I think that's why we need to make sure that we get policymakers involved," continued Schwartz. "Because I don't think that we can 'pilot project' our way through the childcare crisis."

Those involved with Milwaukee's childcare pilot say one solution could be a childcare center funded and operated by local unions that would accommodate early hours.

Click here for more information about the childcare pilot program and to find a link to apply.

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