Sep 8, 2021
Joe Biden Speech Honoring Labor Unions Transcript September 8
President Joe Biden gave a speech honoring labor unions on September 8, 2021. Read the full transcript of his remarks here.
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Joe Biden: (00:14)
[inaudible 00:00:14], please, please, please, please. Thank you, [inaudible 00:00:18]. Please sit down, thank you. Nothing to it, is there Jocelyn? Just walking in and stand on the podium and speaking in the White House. Nothing to it. You did a great job. Thank you, thank you.
Joe Biden: (00:33)
Before I really began. I want to say that I think one of the biggest things that’s changed is my dear mother, God bless her soul used to say, “Out of everything bad, something good will come if you look hard enough for it.” I think one of the good things that has come out of this God awful crisis regarding COVID is ordinary people who never thought about the technician at the drugstore, never thought about the grocery store workers, never thought about what that firefighter has to do when they go in. They don’t ask, “Do you have COVID or not?” Never thought about the people who keep this country up and running before.
Joe Biden: (01:17)
I really mean this sincerely. It’s not a political, it’s a reality. And I think people went, “Whoa. Whoa.” And instead of which was a good thing, banging pots and pans, when people came back from rescuing other folks, I think they began to realize, this is part of the deal. And to use my dad’s expression and I mean it sincerely, and a few of you knew my dad. He said, “Everyone’s entitled to be treated with dignity.” And that’s what the labor unit is all about, dignity. It provides dignity for people who deserve to be treated differently. And I want to thank Jocelyn and I want to thank President Schuller, Madam President. I know you didn’t expect to be in this role at this moment, but as I told you before, I believe that the future of American labor is in very good hands, I really mean it. Thank you.
Joe Biden: (02:24)
Want to welcome everyone to the White House, and I really mean that. This is your house. It’s not hyperbole, it’s a fact, this is your house. I wouldn’t be here without you. That’s again, not hyperbole. In my White House, you’ll always be welcome, you’ll always be welcome. Labor will always be welcome. You’ve heard me say many times I intend to be the most pro union president leading the most pro union administration in American history. But I think one of the reasons I’m able to do that is the public is changing too, you’ve change the public. You’ve educated them a lot. I want to thank the dues paying members of the labors, Marty Walls, who’s helped me make sure that we keep the commitments across our entire government. And before I go any further, I’d like to pause for a moment of silence. [inaudible 00:03:20] hundreds of union workers and essential workers who have died from COVID-19 and honor a buddy, John Sweeney, who we lost earlier this year, and to honor truly dear friend, Rich Chunk. A moment of silence, please.
Joe Biden: (03:48)
Thank you. This is real. One of the things I admired about Richard is that he understood what people was the economy really facing. He like most of you, felt it in his bones. He understood what had happened to workers in this country, like you do. I’ve got to know a lot of you really, really well. You just feel it, you taste it, you understand it. I get [inaudible 00:04:17] by my staff for all these years. And I say, I trust the person most who arrives at the right decision when it starts in their gut, goes to their heart. And then they have the ability to articulate it because it goes to the brain. They’re the ones that never back down. They’re the ones that stay with you. The ones who arrive at intellectually are the ones that are the ones that first … I welcome that, but they’re not the ones who will stay to the end.
Joe Biden: (04:49)
And Rich understood the past and the challenges like so many of you who’ve lived and led through these moments, but he also understood the future. I think he understood who built this country and the tools that were needed to build it back and build it back better. You’ve heard me say it a hundred times. We’re the only country in the world that goes into a crisis and when we come out of it, we’re stronger than we were before we went in it, that’s by building back better. We’re going to build back better, we have to, we must, we will, because that’s who we are. That’s what America is. On Labor Day, we honor the dignity of American worker. And every day we remember that America wasn’t built by Wall Street. They’re not all bad folks on wall street, and I’m not suggesting that. But they didn’t build America. It was built by the middle class and unions built the middle class.
Joe Biden: (06:04)
You gave workers a voice all the way back from my great grandfather, Blewitt, who was a mining engineer. Back to the days of the Molly McGuire and all the way folks were treated in Northeast Pennsylvania in the coal mines. You gave people a voice. Molly McGuire’s, they were a little tougher. You gave him a hard time, you ended up on the doorstep in a bag. But think about it, one of the basic things … My dad used to say, “We just ought to give people an ability to just be able to take a deep breath, have a little bit of breathing room.” And what are those things? Well, healthcare, a pension, God-willing, higher wages with a safer workplace that protects us against discrimination and harassment. That’s not asking too much. We fundamentally transformed how we live and how we work in this country.
Joe Biden: (07:09)
The reason we have is because of the victories won by labor. I’m going to be a bit repetitive, the eight hour a day, a weekend, time and a half for overtime, safety standards, sick days, victories for all of us. Because I might add, I noticed when you all do that, Everybody benefits, whether they belong to a union or not. When unions win, workers across the board win, that’s a fact. Families win, community wins, America wins, we grow. And despite this, workers have been getting cut out of the deal for too long a time.
Joe Biden: (07:59)
From 1948, after the war to 1979, productivity in America increased by more than 100%, while the pay for American workers grew by nearly 100%. And then along came 1979 and everything began to change. Productivity in the country has grown almost four times faster than pay since 1979. That means the workers have been given much more for their employers bottom lines than they’ve gotten back in their paychecks, breaking the basic bargain of this country. The bargain was if you work hard and you contribute to the welfare of the outfit you work with, you got to share the benefits. Well, that stopped for a long time. So you’re going to carve out your piece of the middle-class and make it a possibility. That’s what got taken away for a lot of people. Instead, some people started seeing the stock market and corporate profits and executive pay as the only measure for economic growth. By the way, the stock market has gone up exponentially since I’ve been president, you haven’t heard me say a word about it. I’m glad it’s gone up, no problem.
Joe Biden: (09:18)
Look, let me tell you something. My measure of economic success is how families like mine growing up, working families, busting their neck, how they’re doing, whether they have a little breathing room, whether they have a job that delivers some dignity, a paycheck that can support a family on. The economy in my administration is building. Instead of workers competing with each other for the jobs that are scarce, everybody’s mad at me because now guess what? Employers are competing to attract workers. Having to raise pay. I’m serious, think about it. That kind of competition in the market helps workers earn higher wages, but also gives them the power to demand dignity and respect in the workplace. Simply put, worker power is essential to building our economy back better than before, it’s just that basic. To counter corporate power, to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out.
Joe Biden: (10:21)
I’m so tired of trickle down. I ask, “When has the middle class done better that the wealthy haven’t done incredibly well?” I can’t think of a time that when the middle-class is booming and moving, everybody does well. And to give workers even more power, I also signed an executive order to improve competition in economy, including calling for a ban on non-compete agreements that deny workers the right to change the job in the same field, even when there’s no real reason for company to stop them. It was all about suppressing wages, that’s what it was about. When Congress passed the 1935 Labor Relations Act, it didn’t just say you can have unions, should be allowed. That’s how it’s kind of viewed for a long time. It said that we, the government should encourage unions and collective bargaining, making it easier. That’s what it said.
Joe Biden: (11:27)
I believe every worker should have a free and fair choice to join a union. The law guarantees that choice. That belongs to the workers, not to their employers or to special interests. That’s why signing an executive order, creating a White House task force on worker organizing and employment, to facilitate that choice whenever and wherever we can. Look, I want to thank Vice President Harris and Secretary Walsh Marty for leading that task force. That’s why I want to see Congress pass the Pro Act and send it to my desk immediately. That’s why I want us to extend organizing the collective bargaining rights to state and local government employees like transit workers, first responders, healthcare workers, and other essential workers. And guess what? The public seems to agree with that as well. Government should never be a barrier to workers organizing, it’s government’s job to remove those barriers, but it’s up to workers to make the choice whether to organize or not, whether the former union or not.
Joe Biden: (12:27)
And we need to help them understand why that can be the right choice for them. We know the economic reasons, union members get higher wages, better benefits like health insurance, and paid leave, protection against discrimination and harassment and safer and healthier work place. But there’s another reason, a basic American reason, workers who join unions gain power, power over the decisions and the decision makers that affect their lives. Worker’s voices are heard and heeded. In a simple word, a union means there is democracy. Organizing joining a union, that’s democracy in action. And it’s about dignity on the job, but it’s also about creating good jobs. When I came to office, our first job was to stop the economic bleeding and it was the worst bleeding since Roosevelt. We passed the American Rescue Plan, that delivered shots in arms and checks in pockets and provided that extra breathing room for working families. It help state and cities keep essential workers on the job, including educators, police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers, and thanks to the part of the Rescue Plan named for Ohio laborer Butch Lewis, over a million retirees and workers across the country.
Joe Biden: (13:59)
They can trust that the pensions they work for and sacrificed [inaudible 00:14:03] will be there for them. With a bipartisan agreement we reached to rebuild America’s infrastructure, we’re going to put in hundreds of thousands of people to work, including plumbers, pipe fitters, electrical workers, steel workers, so many other union workers. Modernizing roads, bridges, water system, broadband system, capping abandoned oil and gas wells that are leaking over 100,000 on them making the same salary as digging that well. It creates jobs for American workers, it makes our cities and towns more resilient and better able to meet the climate crisis. And to keep those jobs here at home, when your government spends the taxpayer’s dollar, it’s going to bind American goods, made in America by American workers.
Joe Biden: (15:01)
Look, over the years, the Buy America Act became a hollow promise. It’s been there for a long time. I’m going to make it a reality. The next stop is dealing with the ability to pass the rest of my Build Back Better agenda. Once in a generation investments in our people, making housing more affordable, bringing down the cost of prescription drugs by giving Medicare the power to negotiate for lower prices, you ought to thank Bernie Sanders for a lot of this. Making elder care and childcare more affordable, while improving the pay for home care workers and childcare workers. Providing paid family leave and medical leave so that no worker is forced to choose between their job and their caregiving responsibilities.
Joe Biden: (15:56)
You’ve all fought for all these things. We got to make them available to everybody. Provide two years of free university high quality pre-K and high quality pre-K two years that are needed. It shows that if you send a kid to school at age three, four, and five, they increased by 56% the possibility they have no matter what the background, that they’ll go through school all 12 years and do well. And when I asked in the Obama administration, I was asked to find out from the CEOs of the Fortune 500, what they most wanted, what they most needed, what was their greatest concern. And don’t hold me to the exact number, 348 or 47, I can’t remember the number we got to, said the single most important thing is they needed a better educated public, but guess what? They weren’t paying for it.
Joe Biden: (16:48)
And guess what? Does anybody think if we were starting off from scratch setting up public education, we’d say 12 years is enough for the 21st century? So look, we have to invest in high quality job training and apprenticeships in fast-growing sectors. Compete to give middle-class families well-deserved tax cut for daycare and healthcare and provide a significant monthly tax cut for working families with children. That’s what it is. Everybody talks about my child tax credit, it is a tax cut for ordinary folks, that’s what it is. And part of that, I want us to see us finally, finally, provide dreamers TPS recipients, gives essential workers a pathway to citizenship, bringing them out of the shadows so they can receive the protection and representation that our laws and our unions provide.
Joe Biden: (17:54)
Folks, we’re making progress. Our economy has added 750,000 jobs a month on average during the past three months since I’ve been here. There are more than four million jobs since I took office. In the first half of this year, our economy grew at the fastest rate in 40 years, unemployment is down, my Build Back Better investments are going to allow us to keep in progress and move further in the years to come. Just want to add one more thought in closing. While the pandemic has prevented me from traveling as much as I’d like, I’ve had a chance to meet with many of your brothers and sisters, and many of you, the proud UAW members, building cars and trucks in Pennsylvania and Michigan, and noting that the big three have decided that along with the support of those unions, going electric, so we own that market.
Joe Biden: (18:52)
Steel workers in Portsmouth, Virginia, longshoreman and firefighters in Columbus, ASMI workers in Allentown, IBW workers and iron workers and nurses and grocery store workers in Cincinnati, plumbers and gas fitters in Maryland, AFT teachers in Virginia. And by the way, of course I sleep with an NDA member every night, same woman.
Joe Biden: (19:15)
Same one. Jill had her first day of full-time teaching yesterday. This year’s back to school. And look, I’ve talked with union transit workers, machinist, laborers, welders in Wisconsin. We’ve had Teamsters here in the White House and always the Teamsters always had my back. And last week, I met with the first responders in New Orleans. And on Monday I dropped by some of the IBW linemen in Delaware, helping recover from Hurricane Ida. If the last year has taught us anything, it’s what’s essential. And what’s essential is you. Not a joke. You and your union members. Wall Street could go on strike, but all of a sudden, in the middle of this Ida, every IBW member resigned, we’d be in real trouble. I say that to make a generic point. I think we significantly underestimate, and I think even you guys sometimes underestimate the incredible value you bring to the safety, security, and growth of the economy.
Joe Biden: (20:36)
You’re America’s heart and America’s soul, and we all need to fight as hard for them and work as hard for them as we can. And I want to say the press was very, very … Not just the press, a lot of people were very, very skeptical that when I was talking about what we had to deal with the environment that labor would never help. Well guess what? Labor’s the reason it’s working, labor stepped up, because you all understand. And I made a promise and I’ll keep it. That what we’re talking about here is when you think of global warming, you think of jobs, jobs, all the jobs we’re going to create, making us once again, the fastest growing, we are now, the most competitive economy in the world.
Joe Biden: (21:25)
So folks, you do it all. I’m sorry to go on so long, but I can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done for the country and what you’ve done for me over my career. You’ve educated me, you brought me along and you’ve always been there. Now, I’m supposed to stop and walk out of the room here. I’m going to stop, but with your permission, I’m going to walk into the room because I want to stay a little. Thank you.