CHICAGO — With the Democratic National Convention in Chicago a year away, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and President Joe Biden’s top labor leader on Wednesday touted a $1.35 million federal grant to boost hiring women for jobs in the trades and to work on infrastructure projects, some of which will be showcased next year.
Although the federal grant isn’t a massive amount of money, Pritzker said it is part of a large-scale infrastructure improvement plan to help spur big construction projects, including in Chicago by next year, when the nation’s spotlight will be on the city as it hosts the Democrats’ presidential nominating convention.
“Every dollar of this grant is going into lifting up women in trades and making sure that the opportunities are there for them to participate in every bit of what is a massive infrastructure plan for the state of Illinois, not to mention the city of Chicago,” said Pritzker, who was flanked by acting U.S. Labor Secretary Julie Su and other officials at a downtown Chicago news conference. “When we get to the Democratic National Convention next year, that infrastructure comes into play. Much of what we’ve been building now for the last few years is going to benefit the people who come to Illinois and to Chicago for the DNC and people who live here who are trying to get around during that time.”
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The latest funding, which will be distributed to the Illinois Department of Labor, comes from a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed through Congress and was pushed by Biden and his administration since he took office in 2021.
Su’s visit to Chicago to discuss the grant is the latest by a top Biden administration official in recent weeks.
Vice President Kamala Harris visited Chicago twice in the last month, most recently on Aug. 11 to speak at an annual conference for the national gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety. Biden himself was in town in late June to deliver a speech on his new economic policy he dubs “Bidenomics.”
Su noted there’s a lot of “untapped talent” in the country in need of jobs, including workers without college degrees, immigrants, veterans, people of color and women. She also said women are “powering the economic recovery” in the U.S. following the COVID-19 pandemic and that the nation’s workforce needs to be stronger as women account for only about 4% of the skilled construction trades, she said.
While the federal infrastructure funds would go toward newer roads, safer bridges, modernized airports, more widespread internet accessibility and cleaner drinking water, Su noted the latest grant funding would allow for more female construction workers in Illinois.
The grant will help the group Chicago Women in Trades, and others working with the group, hire and train more female workers in construction jobs, according to the governor’s office. The money also will go to fostering “respectful and harassment free construction workplaces,” the office said.
“And a question that’s been raised a lot is: ‘Are we going to have the workers to do those jobs?’ And part of that answer is to have a strong workforce system,” Su said. “Our workforce system, like our physical roads and bridges, also needs some care. It needs some attention. It needs some rebuilding. It needs some re-modernization.”
Japlan “Jazz” Allen, who chairs the Chicago Women in Trades group, said women are underrepresented in the trades and noted she was an iron worker and welding teacher before leading the group.
“It builds character,” she said of the grant funding. “It builds women, women like me that come through a system that was designed not to work for a woman of color, a Black woman.”
Pritzker also said any plans at the state level for infrastructure improvements in Chicago come from the “direction and ideas” of city officials. By working with Mayor Brandon Johnson, the governor said there would be some “beautification” improvements to the city ahead of the DNC.
“Sometimes the things that you can’t see are the most important things: Sewer, water, making sure that our sidewalks are in good shape, and so on. So that’s all part of what I think you’ll see over next year leading into the DNC,” Pritzker said. “But this city knows how to shine. And anybody who’s, well, around my age, I guess, or maybe a little younger and older, remembers the 1996 (Democratic National) convention and how this city really showed itself off. We’re going to do that next year in August for the country, for the city and of course for President Biden.”