The Biden administration will continue working to be known not merely as pro-worker, but as the most pro-union administration in U.S. history.
Vice President Kamala Harris delivered that message April 12 during a gathering at a Sheet Metal Workers facility in Philadelphia. Attendees included U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh; U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania); U.S. Rep. Mary Scanlon (D-Pennsylvania); U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D-Pennsylvania); Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D); Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney (D); and AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, who traveled with the vice president.
Harris described Shuler as a friend and “a fighter. She goes to work every day for the working people of our nation, and she is an essential partner to our administration.”
The vice president’s speech was titled, “The Administration’s Historic Commitment to Worker Organizing and Empowerment.” She detailed many of the steps that demonstrate the commitment, including cross-country travel with Walsh for visits to “job sites and training facilities and union halls.”
After mentioning Walsh’s long background in organized labor (including growing up in a union household), Harris said that although their respective histories differ, they have much in common.
“My parents met while they were marching for civil rights,” Harris stated. “They taught me that people can make a difference and that when we use our collective voice, whether at a protest or a picket line, we can drive great change. And that belief in the power of solidarity has guided me, [Walsh], and all of us our entire lives. And it guides our administration.
“President Joe Biden and I are determined to lead the most pro-union administration in America’s history,” she continued. “We know, each and every day in ways big and small, unions change lives. Unions negotiate better wages and safer working conditions for millions of workers around our country.”
Harris also pointed out, “Even if you are not a member of a union, you (should) thank unions for every benefit that you receive. Thank unions for the five-day workweek, for the weekend, for sick leave. We should all – anyone who works in America – know that you have benefited from the hard work, from the fight of the leaders in this movement. Our labor leaders, our unions train people to take on good jobs.”
However, unions contribute more to society than just a skilled workforce, she said. The labor movement and the good jobs it helps create and maintain “provides community. It provides home. It provides a place that remembers that nobody should be made to fight alone. It is so fundamental in terms of the approach, which says that we all know we are stronger when we stand together. That is at the heart of the spirit behind this movement.”
She continued, “Unions create stronger communities. They bring people together. And they, of course, protect workers from things like harassment and discrimination. They give workers a voice. Put simply, unions move our nation forward. And the American people know it. The American people know that when unions win, workers win, families win, communities win. When unions win, America wins, as evidenced by the fact that, today, unions have their highest approval rating since 1965.”
Despite the favorable views of unions, it often remains an uphill climb to join one. The vice president said that’s because, in part, “powerful forces in our country have been hard at work building barriers to stop workers from organizing. We’ve got to then take it on with a powerful counterforce, which is why our administration is working even harder to tear those barriers down.”
She discussed the work of the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment, which she and Walsh lead. “Last year, our task force proposed nearly 70 actions the executive branch of our government can take to protect and expand the rights of workers to organize and collectively bargain,” Harris stated. “Our President, Joe Biden, accepted every single one.”
Harris explained that the bipartisan infrastructure bill that recently became law “will put thousands of union workers, carpenters, and pipefitters, and plumbers, and, yes, sheet metal workers, to work across the country.”
She concluded, “Every worker deserves a safe and a healthy workplace. Every worker deserves a job with good wages and fair benefits. Every worker in America deserves the choice to join a union. And the President and I will always stand with you to defend these sacred principles. Our administration will do everything in our power to ensure the workers of our nation can succeed and can thrive. Because when workers succeed and thrive, so does our nation.”