Sep 7, 2020
Joe Biden AFL-CIO Virtual Event Transcript September 7
On Labor Day 2020, Joe Biden joined an AFL-CIO virtual event. Read the full transcript of the event here.
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Joe Biden: (00:00)
I can’t think of anybody I’d rather have in my corner than you. Folks, Happy Labor Day. Mr. President, it’s great to be with you and with everyone who’s tuning in. Rich and I, as he said, go back a long way. He’s the kind of guy, back in the neighborhood when you’re growing up, you always knew that one person you could turn to, the one guy, woman, who wouldn’t turn their back to you, no matter what. That’s Rich. That’s all of you as well. Throughout my entire career, labors were with me. If there’s one thing this pandemic has done, it’s shown the courage, the character and the deep love of this country that lies at the heart of working people in this nation.
Joe Biden: (00:40)
Let me tell you something. Folks have figured out, it’s not the financial wizards of Wall Street that made this country run, or make it run. It’s you, America’s essential workers. You’re the folks breaking your necks, risking your lives, keeping the country going, in our hospitals, on our streets, in our schools. I’ve said it time and again, and I’ll say it again and again, Wall Street did not build this country. You did, the great American middle class, and the middle class was built by unions. Unions. The American people now finally get it, after a long time of being convinced that unions were a problem, not the answer.
Joe Biden: (01:22)
Roughly two-thirds of the American people, roughly two-thirds of them in this country, have a favorable opinion of unions. That matches the highest approval rating Gallup has shown in over 50 years. It’s something I’ve always believed, you’ve always known. My uncle in Scranton, Uncle Ed, used to say, “Joe, you’re labor from belt buckle to shoe sole.” Well, I didn’t have much of a choice, the way I was raised at my grandfather’s table. I’ve never been afraid to say the word “union,” not when I grew up, not today. And you can be sure you’ll be hearing that word “union” plenty of times, if I’m in the White House.
Joe Biden: (02:02)
The words of a president matter. Union. This pandemic has crushed our country. The sad thing is it didn’t have to be this bad. It’s not this bad in other countries. More than six million COVID cases in the United States, almost 200,000 deaths, projected to go much higher, and nearly 30 million on unemployment. That doesn’t count the seven million who are working part-time, who aren’t counted as unemployed, but still can’t buy the new tires for the car when they’re bald, still can’t take care of the basic things of getting the hot water heater fixed, et cetera; the things we talk about at our kitchen tables.
Joe Biden: (02:46)
But I have a plan to rebuild this nation. Not only rebuild it, but rebuild it back better. It starts with getting this virus under control. Then we’ll have a transformational investment in roads, bridges, broadband, ports, airports, big projects. We’ll put people to work right away, as well as make sure our country is ready to compete with any country in the future. We’re going to make sure we pay people what they’re worth. It’s not enough to praise our essential workers. It’s about time we start paying you. We’re going to empower workers and empower unions.
Joe Biden: (03:25)
If I have the honor of becoming your president, I’m going to be the strongest labor president you have ever had. I’m going to make sure we enact the PRO Act, which by the way, Trump had promised when he ran, he would do, and then he threatened to veto if it got passed out of the Senate.
Richard Trumka: (03:40)
Joe Biden: (03:40)
I’m going to hold company executives personally liable for interfering with workers who are attempting to unionize. It’s not enough just to have their corporations pay a fine. If they’re part of the problem, they are going to pay a personal price. We’re going to have a National Labor Relations Board that actually wears striped shirts, is fair, that actually defends workers’ rights. If you go back to the 1930s, the purpose of the NLRB, what it states, it doesn’t say Americans must merely allow unions to exist. That’s what corporations try to tell you. What the act explicitly says is that the government should encourage unionization. Encourage.
Joe Biden: (04:26)
The only way to meet, as my dad would say, the abuse of power is with power. The only power is organized worker power, union power, to deal with abuses. That’s exactly what I’ll do as president, I promise you. We’re going to make sure that anytime American government spends American tax dollars, we’re going to spend them in America, with American companies and suppliers, supporting American workers. President Trump keeps talking about how great this economy is, how great the stock market is. I know the reason he didn’t have the guts to take on COVID and threw up the white flag. He was worried if he started talking about saving people’s lives, the stock market may fall.
Joe Biden: (05:13)
Well, we know it’s been great for his rich friends, but it hasn’t been so great for the rest of us. Millions of people out of work. Evictions on the rise. 20 million people worrying about whether they’re going to lose their home because they have trouble making the mortgage payments. Health care being taken away, and Trump has a plan to gut Social Security. If his Social Security plan he actually puts forward, it actually became law, the Social Security actuary has said the entire Social Security system will be bankrupt by mid 2023. What in God’s name else can this guy do?
Joe Biden: (05:53)
Let’s look at one simple fact. This president is on track to be the only president in modern history to end up with fewer jobs at the end of his term than existed in America when he began his term. But as out of touch as Trump’s language on economy is, when it comes to veterans, he’s downright un-American. I’ve never said that about a president ever, ever, ever, but calling those have served, risked their lives, even gave their lives to our nation, losers and suckers… These are heroes.
Joe Biden: (06:34)
I’ll tell you something, my Beau wasn’t a loser or a sucker. He spent six months in Kosovo as Assistant US Attorney, trying to make sure that they had a criminal justice system. He’s the only foreigner has a 12-foot statue erected to him, a memorial to him because of what he did in Kosovo. Then he volunteered. He was Attorney General and he had to get special permission to volunteer to go with his unit to Iraq for one solid year. Won the Bronze Star, Conspicuous Service medal, and other awards. He didn’t serve with losers and suckers. He served with heroes. He served with American patriots.
Joe Biden: (07:25)
None of the veterans you know were losers or suckers. No president has ever talked about our service men and women in that way. Sorry if I’m coming close to losing my temper, but the simple truth is, if that’s how you talk about our veterans, you have no business being President of the United States of America. Period. Trump says he can’t understand why people serve. Does that surprise you, coming from man who only thinks about what helps him? He asked, quote, “What’s in it for them?” Does that surprise you, coming from a man who only thinks about what’s in it for him?
Joe Biden: (08:10)
He’ll never understand. He’ll never understand you, he’ll never understand us, he’ll never understand our cops, our firefighters, because he’s not made of the same stuff that the people who serve this nation are made of. Like so many of you, you live by a code, an American code. Sounds corny, but it’s real. Honor. Duty. Country. Something bigger than yourself. He lives by a code of lies, greed and selfishness. This is Labor Day and we honor all that working folks have done for the people of this country. We honor you, your work, your courage, your commitment to this country. And I promise you this, if you give me the honor-
Joe Biden: (09:03)
I promise you this. If you give me the honor of being your president, you’ll never have a better friend or a stronger ally in a White House, because if I’m in the oval office, guess who’s going to be there with me? Unions, labor, you. Rich, the bad news for you is there’s no getting away from me pal because I’ll be coming for you. Thank you all and I guess I’m supposed to take questions somewhere along the line here.
Joe Biden: (09:32)
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Well, thank you Mr. Vice President. Now it is the time for our questions from union members all across the country. Can we roll the first video, please?
Corey Birkel: (09:46)
We need a president who will look out for every American, not just the wealthy or the ones that have a lot of power in this country. You got to represent every single person.
Kennita Jones: (10:02)
We need an administration that is going to work for everyone across the aisle for the good of the American people.
Alicia Urena: (10:12)
I feel for everybody who lost a family member during COVID because I myself lost somebody, but I think it helped in opening everybody’s eyes and knowing how important it is to elect somebody who’s going to care for you as a working person.
Emily Bombich: (10:28)
They get to appoint people that are on the NLRB board and that really makes a difference on how stuff’s ruled out and how unions can work.
Rebecca Vedrine: (10:37)
In 2016, I did not go vote. I was not involved in politics. I was one of those that said, “They don’t count my votes. My vote, that doesn’t matter. Just turned 18, who really cares?” So this is like a redo for me. It shows that I’m becoming an adult. I have responsibilities. I have a say in what goes on where I live, where I stay, where I put money to, where I put love into. So this election is everything to me. It means that we could change America one vote at a time.
Rebecca Vedrine: (11:18)
My name is Rebecca Vedrine and this is my question. As a black woman in America who’s worked with union jobs and nonunion jobs, I know that there’s 60 million Americans saying that they would vote for a union today. I would like to know what will your administration do to help them give them that chance? Thank you.
Joe Biden: (11:40)
Moving up here. There used to be a basic bargain in this country. Worker shared in the wealth their work help create. It didn’t go well. They shared in the losses as well, but that bargain’s broken. CEOs are more beholding to shareholders and workers. Instead of boosting wages, they’re increasing stock buy backs and their own pay. 30 years ago, the average CEO fortune 500 companies made 58 times the average worker’s salary. Today, 30 years later, it’s 278 times. What in God’s name happened in the meantime? This pandemic has reminded the nation, we literally couldn’t survive without the health care workers, the first responders, the grocery clerks, the meat packers, the sanitation and transit and postal workers who put their lives on the line for this country and many of them lost their lives. People all across our country have a new appreciation for just how essential you are. They have a new appreciation for how essential unions are as well.
Joe Biden: (12:52)
Unions are why so many today have health insurance and sick leave. Why so many have a voice in the workplace and our democracy. Unions are why the Cares Act included worker protection and why the Heroes Act, which the Senate hadn’t acted on yet, would require OSHA to boost safety standards. Unions shouldn’t have to go it alone. American workers deserve a partner in the White House, a president who’s on their side. Now Trump talks a big game, but let’s look at the facts. He threatened to veto the PRO Act, continuing to make it harder to organize on the job. He led federal contractors double. He talks about what he’s done now, right, in trade. He led federal contractors double offshoring, offshoring jobs in his first 18 months in office. He gave big tax cuts to corporations without making them bring jobs home.
Joe Biden: (13:47)
He raised taxes for union members by ending deductions for union dues. List goes on and on. American workers are the very best in the world. We can outcompete anyone. Anyone, period. You deserve a president who fights like the devil for you the way you do for us. That’s what I’ve been trying to do my whole life. As president, I’ll fight to pass the PRO Act and crack down on employers would try to block unions and go further by holding executives accountable for labor law violations, including jail time if they’re prominently involved in breaking the law. Pass the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act to guarantee every sector of worker has the right to bargain. Strengthen and enforce labor standards, including Davis Bacon wages, plus a $15 minimum wage, overtime pay through OSHA, tougher OSHA. By the way, you’re the only guys fighting for people who aren’t even members of the labor union.
Joe Biden: (14:49)
You’re fighting for workers that aren’t even your members by a $15 minimum wage. Ban right to work laws and stop employers from misclassifying workers as contractors to avoid paying benefits. Give independent contractors and gig workers the right to organize and pass the Bush Lewis Act to protect every worker’s pension and make sure that sacred promise of a secure retirement is honored for everyone. So you don’t wake up one day like my dad did years and years ago, all of a sudden no pension. There’s a lot we can do, but I promise you we can get it done.
Thank you Mr. Vice President. Then we look forward to bringing the PRO Act to your desk next year. I want to move on to our next question. Would you please roll the video?
Pamela Lawson: (15:44)
Our economy is based on tourism. There’s Disney, there’s Universal Studios, and all the theme parks and all the vacation that people like to do. There are some people going to the parks, but it’s not the same. A lot of people have lost their jobs. A lot of people are hurting.
Jessica Gavin: (16:02)
We went from being able to provide for our families, being able to take care of our households to basically going to assistant programs for food and for utility help and trying to make it from unemployment. I mean, it’s been a drastic depression to my industry.
Fawn Slade: (16:21)
The last six months, we have been calling on the Trump administration to invoke the Defense Production Act of 1950 to mass produce PPE or personal protective equipment, ventilators, and other needed supplies and it hasn’t happened.
Sellers Davis: (16:40)
I get reminded every day that bus operators, train operators, transit workers are still in the front lines of this pandemic. They’re the first contact is what the sick people are not feeling well. They’re not driving to the hospital. A lot of them were taking the bus or the train. So we’re the first ones exposed to this. That’s why a lot of the transit workers were dying from it and still are to this day.
Danny Groves: (17:10)
Just like any small community in the Midwest, it’s hitting people hard, jobs. People are struggling to pay rent. People are struggling to put food on the table for their families. The good thing about a Midwest town is we all rally together. Hi, my name is Danny Groves. I’m an Amtrak employee and my question is, what is your plan for providing COVID-19 relief to working people?
Joe Biden: (17:44)
To me, Amtrak employees are family man, family. No one I think has ridden more on Amtrak than a conductor or engineer than me. I’ve made over two million miles on Amtrak they tell me. 36 years, every single day and then a lot when I was vice president.
Joe Biden: (18:02)
Every single day and then a lot when I was vice president and your family. I want to thank Amtrak, Amtrak workers and engineers but that’s a different question. Here’s the deal. You all have said it, America has been knocked down by this pandemic. Over 190,000 Americans are dead. 6.2 million are infected with COVID. 30 million unemployed and nearly one in six small businesses have been shut down. Worst of all it didn’t have to be this way. No other country in the world let COVID spiral so far out of control. Donald Trump ignored the warnings, refused to prepare, and failed to protect our nation and now, more than six months in, he still doesn’t have a plan. No plan. What’ll he do? Nothing [inaudible 00:18:51] the same. What I’ll do? As president on day one, I’ll implement the national strategy I’ve laid out since March to beat this virus. Only then will we really get our economy moving and our kids safely back in school and our lives back on track. That means calling on every American, every American, to wear a mask outside of their house [inaudible 00:19:15] outside of their household. Surging free testing and contract tracing to stop COVID spread. Charting a clear path of science-based vaccines. Free from politics.
Joe Biden: (19:32)
I get asked the question, “If the president announced tomorrow we had a vaccine, would you take it?” Only if it was completely transparent, that other experts in the country could look at it. Only if we knew all of what went into it, because so far nothing he’s told us has been true and it means fighting like hell to keep workers safe on the job and getting real relief out to families and small businesses, not the Mar-a-Lago crowd that Trump bumped to the head of the line with the act that was passed with all that money. A significant portion of that went to big business, it didn’t go to small businesses. Look the bottom line is the Republican Senate has to pass the second piece of legislation Nancy and the Democrats passed in the House, the HEROES Act. They need to pass it today, and then as president, I’ll keep workers safe, use the full Defense Production Act to get every worker, job site, school in our country the PPE and testing they need.
Joe Biden: (20:35)
I was one of the first ones to argue he invoke the act. He took so long and he only did it partially. Require OSHA to boost safety standards, rehiring the investigators that Trump let go, protecting whistleblowers, extending OSHA coverage to all, and I say all, public employees. Provide paid sick and emergency leave for everyone, whether you work in a big company or a small non-profit. Keep families whole. Expand PPP. Require companies that get bailouts like airlines to keep workers on the payroll or they don’t get the bailout. No more no strings attached money. Extend unemployment insurance for as long as this crisis lasts. Boost rent relief. Suspending evictions isn’t enough. You have to keep families and landlords from wracking up bankrupting debts. What happens in six months when all of a sudden, the six months or seven months of rent comes due? Or what happens to that landlord, particularly the small ones, who aren’t going to be able to keep the place open? Cancel $10,000.00 in student debt per person while this COVID is going on. They can’t afford to pay it back.
Joe Biden: (22:01)
There’s so much more, but the bottom-line is focus on getting this economy and average families back up and in the game. They money is there. Pass the act, and by the way, when I ran the act, the Recovery Act when we inherited the greatest recession short of a depression up to that time? The president put me in charge, I had 18 months to distribute over $ 800 billion to keep us from going into depression. All the studies including the conservative outfits pointed out less than two-tenths of 1% waste or fraud, and we put over $140 billion back to the states. States have to balance their budgets. The reason the federal government doesn’t have to is to deal with crises like this. What happened? We kept tens of thousands of schoolteachers, firefighters, law enforcement officers, sanitary workers, the essential workers on a job already were in real trouble, the layoffs that are occurring. He has no sense of it and he must agree with Mitch McConnell who says, “Let the states go bankrupt.” Okay Mitch, let’s see what happens if that happens. Anyway, I could go on, I apologize but there’s so much we can do. Thank you.
Thank you Mr. Vice President and I promise you, the labor movement will not rest until the HEROES Act is the law of the land. I promise that to you. Let’s move to our final question. Would you please roll the video?
Charlotte McCracken: (23:44)
Mr. Vice President, the COVID-19 pandemic and the nation’s response to it has highlighted the already existing but often too ignored systematic inequalities with America’s education system.
Mike Hora: (23:56)
This organization isn’t going to make four more years if Trump gets another term.
Arrion Brown: (24:04)
When COVID first hit, there was the thought that the Postal Service had lost so much mail volume that we may run out of money [inaudible 00:24:13] back in March and April when you were talking about the Postal Service running out of money some time between June and maybe September. That was very worrying because if the Postal Service runs out of money, we had no idea if we were going to get paid, if our benefits were still going to be up, or whether we were going to be forced to come to work.
Ketha Otis: (24:33)
I have a 21-year-old son and personally the election is about his future.
Ketha Otis: (24:46)
My name is Ketha Otis and I would like to know what would you do to protect our public schools, our public services, and public service workers? Thank you.
Joe Biden: (24:58)
Ketha, thank you. Thank all of you. First I want to thank every public employee watching for your courage. I mean that sincerely. The past three months, you’ve fought the daily pandemic without enough supplies or support from your government. The whole country owes you. We have to do a lot more than just praise you. We have to make sure you can stay working and protect it and we have to pay you fairly. This pandemic has slammed states and cities with rising costs, shrinking tax revenues, and Trump passed the buck, turned his back, and stuck states with the bill. You notice he says it’s not my responsibility. What in the hell is his job if it’s not his responsibility? So I say it again, the Republican Senate has to do its job. Pass the HEROES Act now, so painful cuts don’t have to [inaudible 00:25:54] today’s crisis and make it even worse. Already, there are 1,100,000 state and local employees have lost their job. 1,100,000 because the states don’t have the money to keep them on a payroll. 50% more than did in the whole Great Recession and economists say there’s worse to come. It’s past time we get state and local governments the funding they need, to keep millions of teachers and cops and firefighters, mail carriers, bus drivers, sanitation workers and more on the job.
Joe Biden: (26:26)
By the way, bus drivers, they’re the folks who are catching COVID. People getting on the bus without the kind of protection that is needed. People getting on the bus where bus drivers have no option. I could go on but I won’t. It just makes me angry. As I said when I ran the Recovery Act, we made sure we got $144 billion to state and local governments, and it’s long past time to get the Post Office the $25 billion in emergency funds it needs to keep running. One of the reasons why he doesn’t want to do that, he wants to make sure those mail-in ballots don’t get where they’re –
Joe Biden: (27:03)
… Want to do that. He wants to make sure those mail-in ballots don’t get where they’re supposed to get. He’s trying to knee cap a core American service. First postmaster general, Benjamin Franklin. Stop playing politics, Mr. President, with the 330,000 veterans who get their prescriptions by mail, by mail, and they’re getting late. Mail is a lifeline for small businesses and rural communities, this whole country, especially now through this pandemic. 600,000 brave postal workers deserve our full support. Bottom line, this isn’t some math exercise. This isn’t about you, Mr. President.
Joe Biden: (27:47)
This is about the American people I’m talking to now. It’s about the people that are doing the job. It’s about all of you listening, your jobs, your communities. Now more than ever, you deserve better. We should all be taking this fight to Trump and to McConnell. Make them stop playing political games with the heroes who really are keeping this nation going. And then as president, I’ll guarantee all workers, all workers have a right to collectively bargain. So even those who’ve seen the rights stripped away in states like Wisconsin and Iowa once again can negotiate for better wages and working conditions and have a stronger voice on the job.
Joe Biden: (28:33)
People are dying, out of work, afraid for their children. The clock is ticking. We have to give workers the power to make their families whole and make them whole now. People are getting killed figuratively and literally across the board. Folks, look, in spite of all of this, I’ve never, Rich, been more optimistic than I am today. It’s the confluence of the COVID crisis, a phenomenally negative impact on the economy and the systemic racism have added up and taking the blinders off of millions and millions of Americans saying, Oh my God, I didn’t realize the reason I could stay home safely is because of that person breaking their neck, risking their lives and some losing their lives.
Joe Biden: (29:29)
I didn’t realize that there are people in operating rooms and nurses that in the very beginning had to put on plastic garbage bags because they couldn’t find protective gear they needed. I didn’t realize. I now realize and know what you all have done for the country and they’re ready to step up. We don’t have to punish anybody, just make sure everybody pays their fair share and everybody gets their fair shot. I can end with when my dad, Richard’s heard me say this a hundred times, when my dad had to move from Scranton when there was no work down to Wilmington, Delaware and finally we moved in with my grandpa, like a lot of people had to.
Joe Biden: (30:12)
I’m not unique in this regard. My brothers and sisters aren’t either. I remember him coming up the stairs saying, honey, we can’t live in this apartment anymore. We’re going to, and you can’t go to school. You can’t play on that little league team. You’re going to go home and live with grandpa. And it must’ve been hard for my dad to walk into my grandpop’s pantry, a man with four sons and lost one in World War II and a daughter and saying, Ambrose, can I leave the kids with you? It’s only going to be, take me about a year, but I’ll come home every weekend.
Joe Biden: (30:47)
It’s only 157 miles. A lot of people have made that longest walk up a short flight of stairs to tell their kids that they can’t stay in the same school, can’t play in the same club. They’re going to have to move. When my dad moved, he got a job cleaning boilers in Wilmington, and we moved into an apartment complex. And we finally, after five years, four years able to buy a small home, which is we’re happy. Nice middle class home, three bedroom home, four kids and a grandpop. And we were happy. I sometimes look back and wonder how my parents did it with those very thin walls.
Joe Biden: (31:26)
But my point is this, we did fine. My dad used to always use the following phrase and I’ll end with this, I promise. He said, Joe, remember, he told and my siblings, Joey, remember, a job’s about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity. It’s about respect. It’s about your place in the community. It’s about being able to look your kid in the eye and say, honey, it’s going to be okay and mean it. And mean it. It’s about your dignity. You deserve. You deserve to be afforded the dignity every human being does.
Joe Biden: (32:09)
And the surest way to maintain that dignity and acquire it is through the union movement. And I’m with you. I promise you. Thank you for listening.
Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President, for those words, wonderful words. And I promise you, we’ll never stop fighting for that dignity with you and we’ll never stop fighting for our teachers and our public service workers and all the heroes who make our country go every day. They are essential as you noted, not expendable. And I want to thank you for noting that and for fighting for them and spending your entire life trying to help workers get a better life and achieve that dignity that your dad talked about.
Mr. Vice President, would you like say anything in closing?
Joe Biden: (32:58)
One last thing, we better take care of the teachers. My wife taught for the last 30 some years. She taught full time, 15 credits when she was Second Lady and next semester she hopes at least to teach one course, at least online. And we’re already short about 125,000 teachers. And if we don’t do something about it, it’ll be close to a quarter million teachers by 2023. And that can’t happen. Because if it does, I’ll be sleeping alone. I’ll be on my own. I’ll need help. All kidding aside, there’s so much we can do, and I can’t do it without you, Rich.
Joe Biden: (33:36)
And I really appreciate your friendship. Thank you, everybody. Happy Labor Day. It’s going to get better.
Mr. Vice President, godspeed and good luck. We want to thank you so much for caring and not just caring about workers, but making a lifetime endeavor out of fighting for those same workers. You’ve been a friend to workers your entire career. And from the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you for that. And for all of you out there that joined us, I want to thank you for joining us today. And I want you to have a very, very happy Labor Day. And then please, please go out and vote. Our country depends on it. God bless.
Joe Biden: (34:22)
Thank you. Thanks, Rich.