What Plexus Won’t Tell Us About its Outsourcing of Jobs

What the Plexus Case Says About Lack of Corporate Accountability for Job Creation

By Robert Kraig, executive director

On our most recent stop on our “Outsourced Wisconsin” tour last week of big corporations who are shipping our jobs overseas while taking public job creation dollars from the Walker Administration, we stopped at the global headquarters of the Plexus Corporation in Neenah.

Plexus has been controversial for the last couple of years for outsourcing more jobs than it is being paid to create by WEDC, Walker’s troubled jobs agency. WKOW TV’s Capitol Bureau Chief Greg Neumann has done exceptional reporting both establishing the story and debunking slippery denials from Plexus on its outsourcing. Notably the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Politifact have fallen hook, line, and, sinker for the spin put out by Plexus, as Neumann exhaustively documents. The Department of Labor went as far as to update its original report, reconfirming that Plexus did indeed outsource Wisconsin jobs.

Our news event in front of the Plexus global headquarters last week produced another slippery denial from Plexus, and some pretty shoddy journalism by the Fox Valley media that reported it. 

In response to our news event, Susan Hanson, Plexus director of communications, fed WBAY TV the following response:

“Plexus is in compliance with all employment and investment requirements outlined within the tax credit agreement with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). Our Wisconsin employment levels have grown since entering the agreement.  As evidence of our continued commitment to our presence in Wisconsin we will be moving our Neenah Design Center to the building currently under construction across the street of our Global Headquarters in Neenah. This will enable further growth of our employment base within Wisconsin.”

Let’s examine this point by point. The first sentence, that Plexus is “in compliance with all employment and investment requirements,” deliberately misses our point: WEDC allows corporations to outsource more jobs than we pay them to create. This is like a corporation defending abuses which are legal under NAFTA by saying they are in compliance with NAFTA. It its reminiscent of politicians caught in unethical acts when they tell us they are in compliance with “all applicable laws.”

At another level, this classic public relations spin also frames Plexus as an innocent party simply responding to rules it had no roll in creating. The public knows better, big well connected corporations like Plexus are part of shaping these rules of the game, especially at places like Walker’s WEDC. In other words, Plexus is not an innocent bystander but a player in rigging the system against Wisconsin workers.

Next, the Plexus public relations flack says “our Wisconsin employment levels have grown since entering the agreement.” Here’s the problem: that is not what WEDC”s own records show (and let’s face it, WEDC can be counted on to make the best case for its corporate clients). As you can read in detail here according to WEDC Plexus has created 74 jobs but outsourced 116 jobs, for a net loss of 42 jobs. For this abysmal level performance WEDC has paid or promised $17 million to Plexus.

It is revealing that the Plexus spokesperson does not even give a number of alleged jobs created. We are expected to just take their word for it. (What Russ Feingold has called in the context of rigged global trade agreements “a corporate handshake”). This is of course precisely the problem, that complete absence of public accountability for the doling out of our limited public job creation dollars to large politically connected corporations.

Finally, the Plexus statement extols the new building (going up across the street from their headquarters in Neenah) and says this will “enable further growth” of “their employment base in Wisconsin.” What they don’t mention is any specific job creation numbers, and they also fail to mention this is taking place with public financial support.

It is important to understand that WEDC does not even require the incredibly minimal standard that its corporate aid recipients create a net positive number of jobs. In other words, in Scott Walker's Wisconsin it is perfectly legal for a corporation to take public money to create 100 jobs, and then outsource or downsize 1,000 jobs. Yes, WEDC is this bad and Scott Walker’s economic policies are this badly rigged against Wisconsin workers.

How do we know for sure? The two Democratic members of WEDC, Senator Julie Lassa and Representative Peter Barca, to their credit, have proposed a net jobs requirement, and been shot down by the rest of the WEDC board. They also introduced a bill, but it was defeated on a party line vote.

What the case of Plexus shows is that WEDC is not even about job creation, it’s about helping politically connected corporations like Plexus and hoping for the best. If they were actually negotiating on behalf of Wisconsin workers, they would use the leverage of the millions of dollars they are doling out to forbid corporations who want these public dollars from destroying more jobs then then create. It’s not that they can’t do it, they just won’t. It’s not incompetence, it is blind faith in “trickle down economics.”

Public opinion polls show a majority of Americans now think the economy is rigged against them. Walker’s WEDC, and the behavior of multinational corporations like Plexus, is strong evidence that they are right.

To get involved in Citizen Action's Outsourced Wisconsin tour, contact Organizing Director Kevin Kane kevin.kane@citizenactionwi.org 

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