President Joe Biden on Wednesday honored labor unions and workers as the backbone of the U.S. economy and a core target of his domestic agenda working its way through Capitol Hill.
Speaking from the White House two days after the Labor Day holiday, the pro-union president called workers “essential” both to keeping the country afloat during the pandemic and to his own career, plus he outlined ways his administration was working to prioritize them in the future.
“This is your house,” he told attendees, including essential workers, union leaders, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler. “I wouldn't be here without you.
“If the last year has taught us anything, it's what's essential,” he later added. “What's essential is you. Not a joke — you and your union members.”
Biden has long been a union supporter, and on Monday he visited the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers chapter in Delaware, where he brought lunch and chatted with members.
Walsh, also a longtime labor leader, praised the president for his prioritization of unions, especially during the pandemic.
“We owe working people more than a debt of gratitude," Walsh said. "We owe them our commitment to fight — for good jobs, for better wages and safe working conditions every single day."
The president was introduced Wednesday by a pharmacy technician from Arizona, Jocelyn Cruces, who said she got certified to administer the COVID-19 vaccine this year after she herself was hospitalized with the virus and lost her mother to the disease.
“I've seen firsthand how dangerous this pandemic has been for workers like me who couldn't stay at home and losing my beloved mother to this virus,” said Cruces, a member of the United Food and Commercial Workers union.
Biden called on Congress to pass the PRO Act, a bill that would expand labor protections related to the right to organize and collectively bargain.
“Government should never be a barrier to workers organizing,” he said. “It’s government's job to remove those barriers.”
He also advocated for his own domestic agenda, including the infrastructure deal passed by the Senate last month and the larger budget reconciliation bill Democrats are working to move forward. The budget proposal includes measures to fight climate change, an effort that the president said would create even more union jobs.
“(America) was built by the middle class. And unions built the middle class,” the president emphasized.
“I can't thank you enough, all you've done for the country,” Biden told workers and union leaders. “And what you've done for me over my career. You've educated me. You brought me along. And you've always been there.”