REMARKS BY VICE PRESIDENT HARRIS AND SECRETARY OF LABOR WALSH AT THE SECOND MEETING OF THE WHITE HOUSE TASK FORCE ON WORKER ORGANIZING AND EMPOWERMENT
Vice President’s Ceremonial Office
Eisenhower Executive Office Building
11:02 A.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, good morning to everyone. I want to especially thank the members of our Cabinet for the work that you and your teams have been doing over the course of these months, doing extraordinary work.
We are the first administration to collectively, through the leaders of this administration, to take a critical look at what we can do as the federal government — which, of course, is the largest employer in our country — to improve the condition and the standing of our workers, of the men and women who work so hard and do so much for the benefit of the public.
And so, I will say what we all know: The President and I, and I think all of us, are very proud at what we believe will be the most pro-labor union administration that we’ve had in our country. Our principles are based on a very firm and strong belief that when our unions are strong, the American people are strong, and America’s economy is strong.
When we look at what we are doing with the infrastructure — the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal — what we are doing with our Build Back Better plan, it is all about focusing on working people, working families in America.
But we as an administration also decided we need to take a look at — in the mirror, and see what we are doing within our agencies to continue to do the work of improving the condition and the wellbeing of working people in our country. And that is why we launched this task force to empower workers and to increase union density in our nation by leveraging the executive authority that we already have.
One of the aspects of what we are doing that I think is quite remarkable is we have taken a critical look at what we actually have the power to do but have not been doing in terms of the federal government. And we have looked inside of our agencies to challenge ourselves, to ask what we can do better — because, after all, that is the spirit of our administration: to do better.
And so, no other administration has leveraged this full range of authority. And when we release this report, I think it will be evident the commitment that we are making but, in particular, for the Cabinet Secretaries, the commitment that you have each personally made, that the leaders in your agencies have personally made to see this through.
When we produce this report — I believe it’s October 23rd — we also have made a commitment to ourselves and each other that this is not going to be some report that just sits on a shelf. We are fully committed to the implementation of all of the proposals, and we are committed to acting with haste, with a sense of urgency, understanding the direct impact we will have on so many individuals and their families and their communities.
We are also fully aware that not only will this directly impact employees of the federal government, but there will be an indirect impact that will be felt and appreciated by many, many other people in our country who do not work directly for the federal government.
And in this way, we are showing the influence that we can have and a model that we can be of what all sectors can do to better protect the rights of workers and uplift their condition.
Our report includes three components that I think are particularly important to note. One, a proposal for how agencies can make it easier for workers to organize. What we have seen — and the report will make clear — as we did our critical evaluation is it’s not always been easy in the federal government for workers to organize. But we know that is one of the responsibilities that we actually have that we have not pursued with the intentionality that we know we can apply to this kind of work.
The other is we will include proposals for how agencies can use existing authorities. Again, I think some of us were surprised, pleasantly, to find out that we actually do have the authority to do a lot of the work that needs to be done.
And third, the proposals will touch every sector of employment. Now, what does that mean? Well, just look at the range of work that federal workers do. It is everything from being doctors and scientists, to carpenters, to firefighters. Every sector will be impacted by the work that is being done by these extraordinary leaders.
And I will also say that it is and will remain an imperative for our administration to pass the PRO Act as a complement to the work that we are doing internally. This is not to the exclusion of that.
And we all honor the great Richard Trumka and are pleased that we — and that the Congress has renamed the PRO Act after Richard Trumka in the spirit of all that he did to fight for working people.
So, in closing, I’ll say that we are very excited about the work of this task force. On behalf of the President and myself, in particular, we’re very appreciative to the Secretaries, the members of the Cabinet for the work and the time that you put into this and to your teams.
And with that, I thank you all.
Secretary Walsh, would you like to add anything? We are —
SECRETARY WALSH: Sure.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: — doing this work together as partners, and I can’t thank you enough.
SECRETARY WALSH: Thank you, Madam Vice President. And I want to join the Vice President in welcoming everyone here today on the task force, both in person and on Zoom. I want to particularly thank the President and the Vice President for their leadership in this historic moment and this work, the commitment to the work that we’re all doing here.
I want to thank all of you who are principals or Cabinet Secretaries. But more importantly, I want thank your teams because they have been working extremely hard in putting the documents together that we’re talking about, that the Vice President mentioned will be complete on the 23rd.
So, I want to just say to all the folks on the Zoom, please let your teams know how much we appreciate their efforts and their work in this. This truly has been a great team effort here moving together.
Every agency has a lot going on: certainly, fighting the pandemic, rebuilding the economy, addressing climate change, advocating with Congress. We have a couple of small pieces of legislation that we’re trying to get through Congress, so we’re working on that as well.
And those — those are really complementary pieces to all the work that we’re doing. So, we’re excited about that.
It’s not easy to think about organizing and collective bargaining if — because they haven’t been a focus before. As the Vice President stated, you know, and the President made this — made this out, that this is important for the opportunity to rebuild and build the middle class and create opportunities to get other people in there.
So, each of you will find a way to build these priorities into your work. I want to thank you for that. You did it in a short amount of time. I know it’s not complete yet, but really, when you think about the amount of work that’s been done in a very short period of time, it really has been amazing to watch.
It’s clear that everyone, including myself, has taken the President and the Vice President’s charge seriously. So, I want to thank you again for that.
And for someone whose family’s American Dream was made possible by organizing and opportunities to join a union and earn a good living and a middle-class living, I want to say thank you for that as well.
I’m excited about the report that this task force is going to issue in a couple weeks. It’s going to show the impacts of this historic whole-of-government approach to work with organizing. It’s going to address the barriers that many workers face to exercising their right to organize. It’s going to show new collaborations between agencies, I think, that might have been here in the past, but in this administration really creating a bond between our agencies and how we move forward together in other areas.
It’s also going to show that the Biden-Harris administration is taking concrete steps to put power back in the hands of working people. And I think that that’s really important.
I want to be very clear, though: We are responding to what working people are telling us. And that’s really what this report will ultimately be. Workers, especially young workers and workers of color, are saying they want a union. And it’s going to be an opportunity for those workers, particularly workers of color, to be able to access middle-class jobs.
And take — you can take it from me and other folks here who have had other government positions: Probably one of the biggest challenges that we have is making sure we’re creating opportunities for young people of color to get into the workforce. We’re seeing it in our unemployment numbers. Black unemployment is double that of white unemployment.
So, this is a moment in time that we can make a tremendous difference. I hear it when I cross the country and I travel to different cities and states. It’s clear from the latest surveys of data about young people supporting unions and that they want to be organized — or organize themselves, I should say. Supporting unions is higher than it’s been in decades, as far as the numbers go, and we’re taking action to meet their demands.
We should be proud of the work that we’ve done, but we’re certainly not finished by any stretch of the imagination. There’s more work to do, and there’s always more work to do. And I truly believe that this work is going to make a difference in the lives of working people in this country and help rebuild America’s middle class, quite honestly.
In closing, I just want to just honestly say to the Vice President: I want to thank you for your leadership. I want to thank you for your vision here. You’ve made it clear from the very beginning how important this is.
And we were in Pittsburgh — we had a briefing before we did an event in Pittsburgh a few months ago, and I took a moment to step back. And the Vice President was talking to the team in the office, and her commitment and dedication to this work was just absolutely amazing. I knew at that moment that this was a real task for us. This will be a real document. This will be real policy. And this will make a real difference to the American people.
So, Madam Vice President, I hope that we have met your expectations at this moment in this challenge. So, thank you.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Secretary Walsh. And again, as a point of emphasis from all of us to all of our teams that work with us every day — because we have spent a lot of time with the folks who are on the ground doing this work, and the work really has been extraordinary. So, thank you all.
And with that, we will begin our discussion.
Q Vice President Harris, do you have a reaction to the agreement made on the debt ceiling? Do you have a reaction to the agreement made on the debt ceiling?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You know, look, we — we need to address the debt limit and do it as soon as possible. We need to pay our bills. This debt, without question, was accrued by members of both parties, including $8 trillion from the last administration — from the Trump administration. And we need to pay our bills. So let’s get it done as quickly as possible.
END 11:13 A.M. EDT