Vice President’s Ceremonial Office
(March 13, 2021)
5:20 P.M. EDT
VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS: Okay, hi, everyone. So, today, we have gathered for the inaugural meeting — the first meeting of our White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment.
I am so pleased that Marty Walsh — Secretary Walsh will be the vice chair of this task force so we can do the work along with these incredible American leaders to really address something that is a high priority for our administration, which we are proudly a pro-union administration.
And so this is the work of doing two things, essentially: looking at what we can do to take on and address the work the federal government already has the capacity to do around protecting collective bargaining, protecting workers rights, protecting the quality of life of working people in the federal government, and doing it in a way that we also look at what we must do to ensure that working people can organize — that they can negotiate.
Because, we know — it’s pretty basic — union workers are more likely to have retirement benefits; union workers are more likely to have safe working conditions; union workers make $191 more per week than the average worker who is not a member of the union.
Second, in terms of our priorities, we know that this is the case that when there are more union members, there is less income inequality. Another priority for our administration: to combat income inequality, which has only grown over the years. So, this is a high priority for ours, knowing that being pro-union, pro-labor also addresses the issue of income inequality.
For example, between 1979 and the year 2020, union density — and that means that, basically, the percentage of American workers who are represented by a union — dropped 14.9 percent — 14.9 percent. And we can attribute that to a number of things which we will talk about in our meeting.
We all remember that the air traffic controllers. We remember certain inflection points that have contributed, in distant history and in recent history, to those numbers.
But because of that drop, according to researchers, American workers are losing $200 billion a year. So, this impacts not only the quality of life of the American worker, this impacts the quality of life of all Americans because it impacts our economy. And to the extent that we are interconnected — when our economy does well, when the middle class does well — we all do well, which means unions must do well.
So, our goal is to help increase our nati- — our nation’s union density rate. We do believe that the work of this task force should embrace certain principles, including that there is nothing that we do and can do that is too small or too big to address or to fix.
We will find that there are issues that seemingly are small issues that deal with the administration of our government, which, if fixed, will benefit many, many people in many households, many families. So that is a guiding principle of the work we’re doing.
And the bottom line is that we believe when workers organize, our economy gets stronger. And right now, we need our economy to get stronger.
I see Secretary Yellen there; I’m so happy to see you. There’s so many other leaders — national, international leaders — on this issue. And the work we are going to do through this task force is to collaborate and to do the work that we can as a whole-of-government approach to ensuring that we are committed to the importance and the strategic importance for all of America of supporting organized labor and the right that all workers should have to collective bargaining.
And then the final point I’ll make is that the pandemic in many ways, I believe, has marked a new era for our nation. Some of you have heard me say this — you know, if you think of eras or epochs, so much of domestic and foreign policy was determined and designed based rightly on what happened on September 11th, 2001.
And for about 20 years, so much of our domestic and foreign policy was informed by what happened on that tragic, horrible day. I would posit that we are at the beginning of a new era or epoch, which has been and is being defined by this pandemic.
This pandemic has been an accelerator — meaning for those for whom things were bad before, they’re even worse. This has been an accelerator — meaning we have seen vividly — doesn’t require too much research — we have seen the fissures and the fractures and the failures of our systems.
We have seen that if we do not protect workers’ rights — things like paid leave, worker safety, retirement — that all of us pay a price. So let’s look at this moment and the work that we can collectively do, in a way that really is about work that can have intergenerational impact at the beginning of this new era.
And so with all of that, I want to thank you all, because the last point I’ll make is that when we protect and preserve the rights of workers, it is an extension of our respect for the dignity of work, the dignity of all work.
So with that, I want to thank you all. And let’s — let’s begin our conversation only after we hear from Secretary Marty Walsh.
SECRETARY WALSH: Thank you very much, Madam Vice Chair. It’s an honor to be here. I’m grateful to you and the President for this honor to serve on this task force. And to all my colleagues: This is a historic moment here in our country. And it’s an honor for me, as a second-generation union member, to be sitting at this table, fighting for the rights of people in this country to organize.
And I think back to — my father came to this country in 1956. My — he’s an immigrant. Joined a union. And the opportunity that he gave me, as a union member, to be sitting one day as Secretary of Labor has been truly amazing.
My family and millions of families — as you said earlier — across United States joined the middle class through a union. It’s provided good wages, needed benefits, and a voice — a voice for workers all across our country.
Organized workers are good for our economy. There’s no denying that. If you look at the numbers, the numbers say that. And that’s something that’s really important. And the decline of union membership is a problem. And you can see the decline in the middle class as you see the decline in the union membership across our country for the last 50 or so years.
It’s increased inequality. It’s caused wage stagnation in our country, reduced opportunities for people of color, and shifted power away from workers to corporations and to Wall Street. And that’s just not a tagline; that’s the reality of the situation that we’re talking about today. Systems that are supposed to encourage organizing have been tilted against the worker, and we need to do whatever it is to restore the fairness in that process.
It’s the only — one thing I’ve learned in the labor movement is solidarity. We can only overcome the challenges if we stand together. So we’re going to look at how every — look at how every Cabinet, every federal agency can empower workers and enable their rights to organize.
And I look forward to the conversations that we’re going to have. And again, Madam — Madam Vice — Vice President, I want to thank you for this opportunity — to you and the President — for allowing me to be part of this and, quite honestly, having all of us as part of the conversation.
So thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you.
5:30 P.M. EDT