Apr 7, 2020
Transcript: Joe Biden Speech to AFL-CIO Union Members on Coronavirus
Joe Biden addressed AFL-CIO union members on the coronavirus pandemic in a video address April 7. Read the full transcript of the speech and Q&A here.
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Joe Biden: (00:00)
…VAF and the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, your entire executive board for everything that you do, you continue to do and you’ve done so much, not only for Pennsylvania labor, but for labor nationally and for bringing us together today as well. I know you heard from some other important voices today like my friend Randi Weingarten of the AFT, but there’s no better friend I have than Bobby Casey. We go back a long way. We grew up in a neighborhood in Scranton that were literally four blocks away from one another, same parish, same schools. Although he went to Scranton Prep, I had gone, I’d left by that time. I was doing a virtual, almost the same kind of place I went to in Claymont, Delaware, little steel town. But Bobby, I don’t know whether you’re still there, but you’re a great friend and you have a wonderful family and I love your mother. She’s incredible.
Joe Biden: (00:58)
But at any rate, Bobby, you’re also fighting hard to make sure that this Trump administration can’t ignore the pain being felt every day across America, all across this country. Folks, I’m going to be honest with you. It’s going to be an incredibly hard week for the country. We’ve already lost thousands of Americans to this pandemic and we’re going to lose, I’m afraid many more in the days ahead.
Joe Biden: (01:21)
Dr. Fauci, the one consistent voice throughout this administration, and the public health experts are issuing dire warnings. The surgeon general has described this as the Pearl Harbor moment. And all of us are going to be pushed to our limits. None more than those in the front line, our healthcare workers, our first responders, our essential workers who literally are carrying our nation on their backs like labor has always done through this crisis. And I mean this from the bottom of my heart. My heart goes out to each and every individual who’s suffering because of this virus. The families who are grieving lost loved ones. The scared children of those frontline healthcare workers whose parents are working to save so many lives. And those workers have had their hours slashed, their lost their jobs entirely. Some of them are, they don’t know how long they’re going to make ends meet.
Joe Biden: (02:18)
And we’re being tested like never before. I mean like never before. But I know that we’re going to come through it. The American people have always led this country and led this country all the way through every crisis we’ve had. Ordinary people given an opportunity are capable of accomplishing extraordinary things. I’ve been saying this my whole life, but in the face of COVID-19, we’re seeing an incredible American grit and spirit shine through from every quarter. We’re seeing what solidarity means when you put it into action. We’re seeing something else, too. We’re we’re seeing without a doubt how important labor unions are to this country. Labor unions, especially in times of crisis. Who are the workers on the front lines of our national response? The doctors and nurses, the firefighters, the EMTs, the transit workers, the food service professionals, the grocery store clerks and stackers.
Joe Biden: (03:20)
They can focus on doing their job because their union is looking out for their needs. Fighting for protective gear like masks and gloves, pushing for sanitary conditions, pushing for appropriate cleaning protocols, hand-washing, making sure there are options for paid leave. The rest of us, those of us who are staying home to try to slow the spread of this virus, we owe them as well. We owe all of you who are out there though. All of you in the front lines, all of you. We owe the public employee union members more than we can pay them back. Who are the people have stepped up to make sure unemployment checks get out the door in Pennsylvania for Pennsylvania workers. It’s still underway. We’re behind the curve, but as quickly as possible, they’re moving.
Joe Biden: (04:10)
We owe the manufacturing unions that are demanding that we produce the PPE, the medical equipment, and the doctors and nurses who are needed in the front lines so desperately. We owe the airline unions and the service unions that fought to make sure Congress didn’t bail out large corporations without first ensuring they take care of their workers. And we need to make sure that the inspector general that’s in that legislation is an inspector general, holds these big corporations accountable. It’s about the workers, it’s about the workers and not only the workers, but the airline contractors like food and service and cleaning contractors.
Joe Biden: (04:54)
We owe all of our unions because you continue, as you always have, advocating for basic rights and needs of every worker, unionized or not, we wouldn’t have anything we have without unions. For paid sick leave, access to unemployment, access to unemployment insurance, safe and healthy workplace, and including a personal protective equipment that will keep all of us safe. And at least a $15 minimum wage. You fought for everything, not only for your union, but for people who are just need help. So many of our lowest paid workers have stepped up during this crisis and every American seeing them in action should support the right of those folks to be paid a living wage. As President Trump says, “One job should be enough.” These folks are putting themselves on the line every day, sacrificing so damn much, stepping up under dire circumstances do their job, not for themselves, for all of us. They’re essential in times of crisis and beyond, and they deserve not only to be paid fairly, but they deserve our respect. They deserve a safe workplace and a fair pay.
Joe Biden: (06:08)
That’s why it’s vital we make it easier for workers to join a union. For unions to organize and bargain collectively is the only counterweight we have. To have a National Labor Relation Board that actually is on the side of workers. Our frontline workers and essential workers are giving us their all. They deserve to have your government work as hard as they possibly can for all of you as you protect the rest of us. We need [inaudible 00:06:41] workplaces and holding employers accountable during this crisis and every day. That’s what we did in our administration during the H1N1 virus outbreak. Early on the Obama Biden administration, we had OSHA and the CDC issue detailed guidelines of how businesses should protect their workers and we enforced those guidelines.
Joe Biden: (07:02)
Then we worked for years to prepare for a new permanent OSHA standard on infectious disease. When we left office in 2017 it was ready to be proposed, but instead of taking action to protect workers against future pandemics, the Trump administration shelved it. Now, the AFL-CIO is having to fight to get Congress to force the Trump administration to issue an emergency temporary standard requiring all employers, all employers to protect against infectious disease. That shouldn’t be a fight. It’s basic. In a Biden administration, that standard already would be in place. I’ve said it many times. The coronavirus is not Donald Trump’s fault, but he does bear responsibility for our response and taking his duty seriously. It’s about doing the job as a president. His failures and his delays continue. We continue to see it. And it’s caused a real pain for so many Americans.
Joe Biden: (08:10)
Americans should be leading the world, marshaling a coordinated global response, both on the public health and on economic fronts. Giving our skilled union members what they need to manufacture the equipment, supplies and medicines we need now so we can take care of our people here at home and support the needs of vulnerable populations around the world. Unfortunately, President Trump is still not moving very quickly. Not quickly enough I should say that from my perspective. He’s not prioritizing workers. He’s not getting out of the way and let the scientists make the judgments. He’s not using all the authority he has under the federal law to make sure healthcare workers are getting equipped and the supplies they need. He’s not directing OSHA to enforce the law to protect workers from infectious disease. He’s not helping governors who are forced to bid against one another and the federal government to get what they need.
Joe Biden: (09:10)
Trump likes to say he’s a wartime president. Well, he needs a step up and act like it. I’ve offered him a 10 point plan. I call it the Make Work Checklist. It’s what the Trump administration needs to do to make sure that that $2 trillion in the Cares Act that Congress passed actually gets relief into the hands of as many American workers as possible as quickly as possible. Secondly, making sure that unemployment checks get out on time and in full. Third, pushing banks to get those government-backed small business loans out the door to every eligible small business so they can keep the workers on the payroll. Policing the way large corporations use their funds that they received to pay workers and their benefits.
Joe Biden: (09:58)
Opening up, this is really important. Opening up enrollment for Obamacare so the folks who are not covered like a lot of you are, thank God, who need insurance right now have a chance to get it. The president should be laser focused on keeping as many people employed as possible and making workers financially whole so that we weather this crisis, come back stronger as a nation like we always have in the past. Because once we break the infection curve and stem this public health crisis, we’re going to face an immense job of rebuilding this economy, but we can do it. We can do it. We can’t just return to an unfair and unequal economy that’s stacked against American workers. I’ve been saying all throughout this campaign, Wall Street and the CEO’s didn’t build this country. The middle class did. And the middle class was built by unions. Unions built the middle-class. And working families and unions will be the drivers of our success once again, when we get through this. Together, we’ll make sure that everyone has a chance to build a solid middle-class life for themselves and for their families in the 21st century economy.
Joe Biden: (11:16)
We know what that needs to look like. This will be our chance to make it real. Invest in our infrastructure, provide greater access to education and job training, affordably. Raising wages to protect workers and their overtime pay. Ensuring access to universal healthcare while guaranteeing that unions and union members can keep their current insurance if they choose. Protecting pension plans and above all, more union members, more unions, more collective bargaining everywhere in America, in the private sector and the public sector, in the federal government. Unions are the reason why so many workers right now have a fair wage, health insurance, retirement security, safe workplaces, paid sick leave, family leave. You won it at the bargaining table. You have a voice in your workplace and I promise you, I give you my word. I will fight alongside you to make sure every worker in America has the same protections, not just in time of crisis, but permanently.
Joe Biden: (12:24)
Look, you all know me pretty well. I promise you if I’m elected president in November, no one will fight harder for you, your families and your communities. I just want to say again, unions, some of you heard me say this before. My dad used to say the only way to deal with abuse of power is with power. You are the only power we have to take on corporate America as it oversteps its bounds. The Fair Labor Standards Act didn’t say it’s all right to have unions. It said the government should promote unions, promote unions, promote unions. And I want to promise you that’s what I’m going to do. Not just support unions, but promote formation of more unions. Take on those corporations that are spending $1 billion a year to make it difficult to organize, violating the law. So much to say, but I’m promise you, I’m not going to talk anymore.
Joe Biden: (13:22)
I know you’re all, you’ve had a lot of speakers, but again, Mr. President, thank you very much for having me. You really are, you really are the reason why we’re going to get through this. And I want to thank you for supporting our frontline workers. Thank you for your spirit of solidarity, having each other’s backs and know that I’ll have your back. I promise you. If there’s anything I can do to be helpful in the coming days or months, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I hope that each one of you and your families are staying safe and healthy in these difficult days. I’m thinking about you all. We need you more than we ever did.
Joe Biden: (14:02)
Mr. President, if there’s anything I can do you know you get me directly. I promise you I’ll do whatever I can and I know I’m locked in a basement like a lot of you are. But again, I want to thank you. I owe my career to you, a country owes its prosperity to you and I promise you, if I’m your president, I’m going to fight like hell to see your strength grows. I promise. Thank you and stay safe folks. Stay safe. God love you all. Thanks.
Thank you so much, Vice President Biden for those truly powerful and inspiring remarks and your support of union members everywhere. And I notice on some of our comments, one of our members, a mine worker, obviously we don’t, you talked about all workers and that certainly includes those from a thousand feet underground.
Joe Biden: (14:59)
You’ve got it, man.
A thousand feet in the air.
Joe Biden: (15:03)
I’ll tell you what, we got to take care of those miners. I come from Scranton. I watched it, as a kid I watched it die. I know it’s an entire culture. It’s not just a job. It’s more than that. And we owe them big. We owe them big.
Joe Biden: (15:20)
Anyway, I’m sorry. Keep talking.
No, I appreciate it. A lot of times after somebody speaks, the applause happens, you work the rope line and we’re just so glad you could stay with us. And with that we’ll continue on unless you have a minute or two if somebody has a question.
Joe Biden: (15:41)
Sure, I’d be happy to take a question.
Oh, that’s great. Ken Washington from a Laborers International Union. Kenny.
Ken Washington: (15:49)
Hey, thank you. Thank you. Thank you, Frank. I mean, Oh my God, Rick.
Joe Biden: (15:55)
It’s okay, Kenny, my name is Joe.
Ken Washington: (16:01)
I’m calling in because many of you knew that I lost a close family member at beginning of the month. It is two people who one calmed me down and one calmed my family down and one that calmed me down was Frank. Frank, I love you brother. But those kinds of words that you called me after she passed, pulled me together. And Joe, when you called me that night, you didn’t know that I had all of my young family members in there with me. And of course they didn’t believe you was on the phone. So I put it on speaker. You had them crying because the thing of it is you was able to share with them the feelings that they were having because you went through basically the same thing. And that’s why I believe that he’s our best choice to beat Trump because he understands what we go through every day. And I just wanted to say thank you. I didn’t get a chance to thank you that night, but I thank you. Thank you. Thanks.
Joe Biden: (17:12)
You need not thank me for a thing and I, look, you know how to get ahold of me through the staff. If you want me to pick up the phone and call the kids, I mean this sincerely, I’m happy to do it. Just check in, see how they’re doing. Sometimes it’s a lousy thing to go through. And I know a lot of people call you and say, “I know what it’s like,” and but unless they’ve been through it, it’s hard to know. And sometimes I found I got solace from people who had been through what I went through when I lost my wife and daughter in that accident. And my boys were [inaudible 00:17:44] when I lost my son Beau. I, a lot of people are going through a lot worse than I went through and they don’t have any of the help. They don’t have the family that you and I have, old buddy. And we got to remember them every single day. They get up every day, they put one foot in front of the other.
Joe Biden: (18:00)
And God, look what just happened to the Kennedy family. I mean, God almighty, talk about a starstruck family. I mean just keep them in your prayers, too. But I’m sorry we belong to the same terrible club. But the fact is that I really mean it. If you can think of, if you think about it I think I still have the phone number. I’m not going to do it unless you want me to, but I’m happy to call the kids. I really am. People called my kids when they were in a similar situation and it meant a lot.
Joe Biden: (18:33)
Anyway, Mr. President, thank you very much. And all you folks out there that are busting your neck saving us, all of you who are putting yourselves in harm’s way to save people’s lives, all of those union members and, yes, here’s what I hope comes out of all this.
Joe Biden: (18:52)
I hope will come out of all this is a better appreciation, I’m sure it will by people who don’t even think about unions or have been convinced that unions are a problem and watched, watched what happened. Watch the sacrifices you make. Watch the sacrifices you make to make sure that you’re protecting people you don’t even know. I said when I announced, you remember, Mr. President, I said we got to restore the soul of America. This is, you are the soul of America. It’s not hyperbole. You’re the soul of America. You’re getting up every day. You’re going out, you’re doing the jobs that no one else can do or are willing to do, and you’re risking your lives doing it. So we owe you. And I’m going to remind everybody when this is over.
Thank you for taking the time. And I’m told that you have to sign off now. So appreciate your remarks. Thank you.
So boy, what a great friend and a great personal story, Kenny. A remarkable vice president and human being that Joe is.
Back to the resolutions. We had on the floor of the Resolutions Committee, resolutions that had been moved and seconded to support. So are there any discussion or comments on the resolution from the Union Label Committee? Seeing none, we’ll put up the poll for our two minutes and open the phone lines for those who want to vote on the phone.