Biden Says Stimulus Is Aimed at Boosting Union Jobs
March 6, 2009 - 9:43 AMVice President Joe Biden, expressing his solidarity with organized labor, told the AFL-CIO Executive Committee on Thursday that "rebuilding our broken economy gives us the opportunity to get it right and reward workers." Union workers.
“We're going to make sure that in every policy, every decision, we don't lose sight of the folks that brought us to the dance,” he said -- a reference to organized labor’s support of the Obama-Biden ticket. “And toward that end, we have to make sure that the jobs we're creating come with fair wages and decent benefits.”
Biden told the union executives at the five-star Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami that "economic injustice and inequity are bad for everyone. It's just not right and everybody knows it -- it's just not right when the average CEO makes $10,000 more every day...than what the average worker makes every year.” he said.
The vice president noted that the administration is determined to see that taxpayer dollars "go to something other than union-busting activities.” He mentioned the stimulus package, which will funnel taxpayer dollars to union jobs:
"The focus of this administration the first month has been to rebuild American roads, bridges, waterways -- jobs for the building trades union. Investing and getting more people access to broadband -- communication workers. Creating clean energy economy -- jobs that require electrical workers to modernize the grid, steel workers to go out and build the wind turbines, laborers to install the solar panels. Making our communities safer, jobs that require getting cops on the beat and keeping firefighters in firehouses. That's what we're trying to do."
He also mentioned investment in schools (teachers unions).
Federal law 'encourages unions'
According to Biden, the nation's policy -- as expressed in the National Labor Relations Act -- is to "encourage collective bargaining, encourage unions." He said it's not enough for corporations and government to "tolerate" workers forming unions -- "after using every trick in the book" to block them.
Biden reassured labor leaders that he and President Barack Obama agree, "You can't have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement." And Biden repeated that he and Obama will judge the success or failure of their administration on whether the middle class standard of living has increased during their first term.
Biden described teachers, police officers, firefighters, hospital workers and factory workers are the "nation's heart and soul." And while bankers and financiers are "necessary," "they are not the spine of the system," he said.
Biden says the middle class has been "slipping" in recent years because the “social contract” is out of balance.
When productivity goes up, the people responsible for that productivity are supposed to benefit. That’s the “deal,” he said: “We don't want chief executives and wealthy people not to get wealthy. That's okay by us. Every one of us hope our kids end up there some day.”
But Biden said the deal involves workers getting a piece of the higher profits generated by their labor: “While a company’s management may come up with a good idea, workers “help make it happen…we do things faster and better and cheaper for you so the profit margin increases -- the deal was we get a piece of that. We get a piece of it -- a fair piece. That's the bargain.”
Biden added that workers who helped boost productivity in recent years have seen the value of their incomes drop. "For too long the middle class has been dealt out. I'm here to tell you in this administration it is dealt in. It is the first card on the table."
More people on the ladder
In a plug for the Employee Free Choice Act, Biden said the unions aren't asking for anything they don't deserve: "We just want to level this playing field again."
The Employee Free Choice Act, also known as the card-check bill, would require the government to certify a union after 51 percent of workers have openly signed a card saying they want to unionize. The measure would effectively eliminate secret ballot union elections, critics warn.
"I have a simple, basic belief, one that we're going to work hard to put into action: If a union is what you want, a union you're entitled to have," Biden said.
Biden told the AFL-CIO there is no such thing as an "inherently good job." "They become good jobs when workers have an opportunity to insist that they get paid a fair wage, they get treated fairly, and they will benefit from the productivity that results from that industry. The union movement made them good jobs."
Although it’s going to be a “rough year,” Biden says he’s optimistic: “I think we've got a ladder long enough, and I think when we climb out of this hole, if we do this right, it's going to be -- we climb onto a platform that's clearer, sturdier, better, more competitive for America, and put us in a position where we're able to do in the 21st century what we did in the 20th century. Our job in the meantime is to get as many people on that ladder as we can.”
Biden said there’s a good chance of returning to the days of gainful employment and “the bargain” that lifts workers: “We got a shot like we haven't had for the last 30 years,” he said.
Cameras were not allowed to cover Biden's speech, but his office released a transcript of his remarks.