Remarks by Vice President Harris on the Administration’s Historic Commitment to Worker Organizing and Empowerment
Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 JATC
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. (Applause.) Good afternoon, everyone. Good afternoon. Can we please give it up for William? (Applause.)
You know, I was — I was backstage listening to you, William. And when I listened to you — we had a minute to talk earlier — and I know that you represent the future of the American labor movement. And in that movement, we are strong. Yes. (Applause.)
Well, good afternoon, Philadelphia. It’s good to be back. (Applause.) It’s good to be back, and it’s good to be here at the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19. (Applause.) I love being in the house of labor.
And I will tell you — I think we all know, William had it exactly right — being here — Marty Walsh talked about it — being here — well, it’s being with family. It feels like being with family because it is being with family.
I want to recognize and thank my friend, Liz Shuler, the President of the AFL-CIO, who traveled down with me on Air Force Two. As you all know well, Liz is a fighter. She goes to work
every day for the working people of our nation, and she is an essential partner to our administration.
I know Joe Sellers is here because we were hanging out earlier — I want to thank him — the General President of the Sheet Metal Workers International, who got his start right here at Local 19.
And I know Sean O’Brien is here, the new General President of the Teamsters.
Thank you each for your tremendous leadership. (Applause.)
Also here with us here are a number of elected officials — true champions of the labor movement, people I have worked with for years — leaders like Senator Bob Casey. Thank you, Bob, always. (Applause.) Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon. (Applause.) There she is. And Congressman Dwight Evans. (Applause.)
I want to thank you, Governor, for the warm welcome at the tarmac this morning when I arrived. And thank you for your work.
And, Mayor Jim Kenney, thank you as well. (Applause.)
And, of course, joining us today, a great, great leader — before he had the title of “Secretary,” because he’s just been a leader in every position he’s had — but our Secretary of Labor, Mahrty — Marty — (laughter) — Marty Walsh. (Applause.) (Laughs.)
SECRETARY WALSH: (Inaudible.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Mahty!
You know, over the past year, Secretary Walsh and I have been traveling the country. We’ve been visiting job sites and training facilities and union halls.
And we’ve actually been on a bit of a traveling roadshow, I should say. And I couldn’t tell you — I’ve seen Secretary Walsh — I heard him say this earlier — but I’ve seen you, Secretary, when the cameras are on, when the sec- — when the cameras are off. And you are always fighting for the working people of our nation. I thank you for that. (Applause.)
And some of you may have met the Secretary for the first time, but you probably know from hearing him speak: Secretary Walsh — he grew up in a union household, in a family and in a community that believed in the power of solidarity.
And, you know, he and I get on quite well. We really do enjoy each other’s company. We’ve developed a real friendship. And, you know, some people might look at us and say, “Well, what could they possibly have in common?”
You know, I grew up on the other side of the country. But I was raised — and he and I were raised with the same values.
My parents met while they were marching for civil rights. They taught me that people can make a difference and that when we use our collective voice, whether at a protest or a picket line, we can drive great change.
And that belief in the power of solidarity has guided me, him, and all of us our entire lives. And it guides our administration.
President Joe Biden and I are determined to lead the most pro-union administration in America’s history. (Applause.)
Because you see, we are clear and we know, each and every day in ways big and small, unions change lives. Unions negotiate better wages and safer working conditions for millions of workers around our country.
And let’s be clear: Even if you are not a member of a union, you thank unions for every benefit that you receive. (Applause.) Thank unions for the five-day workweek, for the weekend, for sick leave. (Applause.)
We should all — anyone who works in America — know that you have benefited from the hard work, from the fight of the leaders in this movement. Our labor leaders, our unions train people to take on good jobs.
But as you have heard, it’s so much more than a training of a skill. It provides community. It provides home. It provides a place that remembers that nobody should be made to fight alone. It is so fundamental in terms of the approach, which says that we all know we are stronger when we stand together. (Applause.) That is at the heart of the spirit behind this movement.
Unions create stronger communities. They bring people together. And they, of course, protect workers from things like harassment and discrimination. And they give workers a voice. Put simply, unions move our nation forward. And the American people know it. The American people know that when unions win, workers win, families win, communities win. (Applause.) When unions win, America wins — (applause) — as evidenced by the fact that, today, unions have their highest approval rating since 1965. (Applause.)
People know what we’re talking about. They know what we’re talking about. They know, today, as a matter of fact, about half of all non-union workers say they would join a union if given a chance. That is almost 60 million people in our country, nearly 20 percent of our nation. Think about it. Think about it.
And then that, of course, has to prompt the question: “Well, what’s stopping them?” And we know that part of the answer — a big part of the answer is that, for decades, powerful forces in our country have been hard at work building barriers to stop workers from organizing. And we all know that we’ve got to then take it on with a powerful counterforce, which is why our administration is working even harder to tear those barriers down.
As Secretary Walsh mentioned, as partners, he and I lead the White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment. Last year, our task force proposed nearly 70 actions the executive branch of our government can take to protect and expand the rights of workers to organize and collectively bargain. And the President — our President, Joe Biden — accepted every single one. (Applause.)
Last year, as everyone here knows, we also made an historic investment in our nation’s infrastructure. With your help, we passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
It will put thousands of union workers, carpenters, and pipefitters, and plumbers, and, yes, sheet metal workers,
to work across the country.
In fact, last week, I met — in my office in D.C., I met with some longtime friends from the California Building Trades. And one of the leaders told me there that thanks to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, workers will soon be upgrading — not only in California, but around the country — for example, the H-VAC systems in local schools. Well, let’s think about what that means. (Applause.)
As the pandemic — it, of course, only highlighted the importance of clean air in our schools where our babies, where the children of our nation go to get an education, to reach their God-given capacity. And we know then the connection between these issues because we know that when students breathe clean air, they are healthier, they concentrate better, they learn more. Well, who’s going to do the job of help making that possible? These folks. (Applause.)
So, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, it invests billions of dollars in our nation’s schools so that we make it safer for our children.
All these issues are connected.
And we are fighting not only to create jobs, but to protect our workers.
Now, as has been mentioned and Liz talked about it, summer, of course, is coming. And the late — the last, actually, eight years, you all might know, have been the hottest on record. The last eight years have been the hottest on record. And many of the jobs that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law created will require workers to work outdoors, outside, to build back up our nation’s infrastructure.
And that means, during the summer months in particular, they will be working outside in the heat, building bridges, replacing lead pipes, laying broadband wire so that our students can have the benefit of being able to have that resource, knowing that, unlike for some of us, the thing of Encyclopedia Britannica is a thing of a long time ago — (laughter) — and now the kids need to be online to help get their homework done.
Broadband wire — why do we care about that? We’re going to lay it across the country because we know that our seniors might need the benefit of telemedicine if it’s too far to get to a hospital. Our small business owners need access to high-speed broadband to run those small businesses that are part of what fuels America’s economy.
But all that work, so much of it will be done by highly skilled workers outside. So it’s a real issue.
And then, there are other jobs created by the Infrastructure Law that will require workers to be indoors —
in steel mills and on factory floors — where temperatures can climb high enough to give workers heatstroke.
And as many of you know then, this high heat is dangerous and can be dangerous when it is there, in their workplace — even deadly.
And every year, thousands of workers suffer heat-related
injury and illnesses. The danger posed by extreme heat has been ignored and overlooked for far too long. And that danger is only increasing.
Because as we know, climate change has become a climate crisis. By 2030, this very city can expect 25 days a year with heat and humidity that will make it feel like 105 degrees or hotter. Think about that.
So, let’s be clear: Heat is a workplace safety issue. It turns out outdoor heat, indoor heat presents a workplace safety issue. And employers are responsible for protecting their workers in the workplace from the dangers of heat, including
in farm fields, in delivery vans, and in nursing homes — (applause) — everywhere that has workers.
So, our administration is fighting to make sure
every workplace is protected.
Now, I’m making an obvious point clear. Some people who don’t understand need to understand that the workplace to get the jobs done that’ll make life easier for most people in our country, that workplace is not necessarily an office with air conditioning. But it is a workplace nonetheless where highly skilled workers work. And that is how we are approaching this issue.
In fact, I know you heard, when I served in the United States Senate with Bob Casey, I introduced a bill to create a federal heat standard to protect workers. We named it after a farmworker who lost his life after picking grapes for 10 hours in 105-degree heat.
And I’m proud that last fall, OSHA — the Occupational Safety and Health Administration — took the first step toward creating such a standard. But we cannot wait for that rule to be finalized to protect our workers.
So, today, OSHA is initiating what’s named a National Emphasis Program on heat. And for the first time, OSHA will begin — for the first time, OSHA will begin nationwide workplace heat inspections — (applause) — targeting over 70 high-risk industries.
Because we’re going to put these values in place. We’re going to put these rules in place. And we’re going to monitor to make sure that the workers aren’t out there without us making sure that they are receiving all of the protections that they are entitled to receive. And we’re not going to stop there.
As all of you know, it is not how you start a job; it is how you finish it. And so our administration is going to continue this fight until every worker is protected, by using every tool at our disposal to mitigate the danger posed by extreme heat.
Philadelphia: For myself, for President Biden, and I know for so many of you, this is what it all comes down to — dignity. The dignity of work. Understanding all work requires a skill. And this work is highly skilled. And it is critical that if we are to strengthen ourselves as a nation, we must strengthen the rights of workers and we must collectively recognize their value and the dignity of that work. (Applause.)
Every worker deserves a safe and a healthy workplace. Every worker deserves a job with good wages and fair benefits. Every worker in America deserves the choice to join a union. And the President and I will always stand with you to defend these sacred principles.
Our administration will do everything in our power to ensure the workers of our nation can succeed and can thrive. Because when workers succeed and thrive, so does our nation.
I thank you all very much. And please take care. Thank you. (Applause.)