IBEW Local 5 Western PA Joint Apprenticeship Training Center
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

*Please see below for a correction marked with an asterisk

2:25 P.M. EDT

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Secretary Walsh.  I was so excited when you said you would be the Labor Secretary because, you know, we — we have a defined amount of time to do the work that we need to get done, and this is not a time to be incremental.  

There’s too much at stake — in particular, when we’re talking about America’s working families, and the dignity of work, and the significance and the value of recognizing the value and the significance of the work being done.  And — and so, this is my partner in this effort, and I want to thank you in front of everyone and all the friends, Secretary, for the work that you are doing.  

I want to recognize we have Senator Bob Casey.  He and I served in the United States Senate together during my four years there.  I’ve said this before, and the reality is that Bob Casey is exactly who he is whether the cameras are on or off.  And including when we’ve been in those caucus meetings, and he’s always one to stand up and talk about workers’ rights, working families, and always holding up the standard of what we should all care about in terms of the folks who are making this country run.  

I want to give special recognition to Congressman Conor Lamb.  He has been — he is just a rock star in the U.S. Congress.  He is chairing the Congressional Steel Caucus and — which is all about strengthening industry and good union jobs.  He has been a fighter for working people.  And the President and I are so excited to work with him and to continue our partnership around his leadership for working families in Pennsylvania.  So, thank you, Congressman, for being here.  And to everyone else.  

So, look, it is great to be in house of labor.  And — and this town, in particular — Pittsburgh — has been a leader among leaders on the issue of working people in America.  I was just looking up my history: In 1881 was the founding meeting of the AFL in Pittsburgh — 1881.  Almost 100 years later, 1983 1938*, the founding convention of the CIO right here in Pittsburgh.  

So this, in many place — in many ways, is part of the birthplace of America’s leadership in saying that: If you want to have a strong economy, support workers and recognize the dignity of work.  And I will say, as I say all the time: No matter what your profession — if you are a member of organized labor, of a union or not — thank unions every day for the five-day workweek, for the weekend, for paid leave if you’ve got it — we’ve still got work to do there — family leave, vacation time.  

Thank unions for all of those benefits because it is the men and women of organized labor, of our unions, who have fought for all workers, including their membership.  So I’m here to thank you all on behalf of the President and myself, and then to rededicate ourselves to the work we need to get done.  

And, in particular, we created the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment.  And the President has asked the Secretary and I to lead that.  And it is, in many ways, about addressing not only what we must do to reinforce the right of collective bargaining, card-check issues like that — but also what we need to do to address the barriers that stand in the way of workers organizing, because there are still so many.  

And you all know that, which is why we’re going to have this conversation today.  So-called “right-to-work laws,” employer intimidation, which we hear about sometimes on the television and on the nightly news.  And sometimes — and often we don’t hear about it, but you all do.  And so we got to talk about that.  Barriers in terms of attacks on card check.  

And our administration feels very strongly that there is no issue that we can take on that is too small or too big to do what we must do to remove the barriers to workers having the ability — the true, real ability — to join a union and to organize. 

The American Rescue Plan was a fight against many of these barriers by our administration — one of the first issues that we took on.  And thanks to organized labor and many others, we got it passed.  The American Rescue Plan, as the President will talk about, is unabashedly pro-union.  We are very proud that our administration will probably be the most pro-union of any we’ve seen before.  

So, in the American Rescue Plan, we put in $350 billion for states and cities and towns to help protect public-sector jobs, which, we remember, have been under threat of at least reducing the numbers, if not getting rid of some of them all together.  

In that plan, we got $170 billion in funding for schools — to get schools reopened safely, but to also protect and support our teachers and our educators throughout the educational system.  So it’s the teachers, it’s the school bus drivers, it’s the cafeteria workers — all of the folks who are part of making education real in our country.

Nearly $31 billion went to funding for transit systems.  Of course, let’s talk there about the essential work, especially highlighted during the pandemic, of our transit workers, who every day drove people around — perfect strangers — risking their own safety and the safety of their families because of their dedication to their work and their understanding about the essential nature of that work.  

So none of this could have happened without unions.  And I’m here to say thank you again for the work you’ve done.  

And then we have two more plans that we’re fighting for: the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan.  The American Jobs Plan would do a number of things that will be about fortifying and growing good union jobs.  It’s about infrastructure.  Right?  The infrastructure that includes roads and bridges, yes.  The infrastructure that includes cleaning pipes so that our children are not drinking lead and being exposed to the toxic substances that can have lifelong impact on their ability to learn and live.  

It’s about investing in apprenticeships.  So, part of the American Jobs Plan dedicates resources to the kinds of apprenticeship programs that IBEW and so many others have made the hallmark of what it means to invest in America’s workforce with the skills and the — the techniques that are necessary to build our country.

We would expand access to long-term care services under Medicaid.  So that’s about, again, supporting workers and supporting healthcare workers and supporting domestic workers and supporting home healthcare workers and supporting childcare workers — all who are part of the infrastructure of our country.  Because, you know, the way I think about infrastructure is this: You want to define infrastructure?  I define it this way: whatever you need to get where you need to go.  And if you need to go to work, but you need someone to take care of your children, then childcare becomes essential infrastructure, from my perspective.  

So this is some of the work that we are doing.  And then, of course, supporting the PRO Act, as the Secretary has said.

The American Families Plan — that would make it, again, possible for Americans to get to work by providing much-needed services.  So universal pre-K, looking at the fact that our three- and four-year-olds — when they have access and their families have access to universal pre-K, that’s about not daycare, it’s about education — getting them started off as young as possible on a track where we see that, if they are on that track, they’re much more likely to graduate high school and go on.  

Two years of free community college, same point.  

And then, of course, in an historic investment in childcare by increasing pay and expanding training for childcare workers.  

So, all of that to say that when we think about unions, when we think about the need to support workers’ ability to organize and collective bargain, it is about understanding the significance between that and the desire that families have to raise their families and support their households so that not only they can enjoy a certain quality of life, but so we can be productive as a nation.  

When we support unions, that’s about lifting up the middle class, and everybody in America benefits.  And as the President and I — you know, on a daily basis, we get what’s called the “Presidential Daily Brief” — the “PDB” — where we get classified information about the threats to our national security and hotspots around the world.  You know, one of the things that we think about is the need for America to be competitive, for us to understand that we have to maintain our economic strength in addition to fighting always for our democracy.  

And if we are going to be strong as an economy, we have to support our workers and make sure they are strong.  And that is, at its essence, the reason we do the work we do.

So, with that, I look forward to our conversation, Mr. Secretary. 

                          END            2:35 P.M. EDT

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