Labor leaders invited to discuss jobs, infrastructure, stimulus spending and more with President Joe Biden last week say it was the most substantial Oval Office meeting in years for working people.
“It was enormously productive in addressing how the labor movement can work with the administration in putting Americans back to work and creating good-paying union jobs,” International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said.
Stephenson was joined for the hours-long conversation Feb. 17 by the presidents of the Operating Engineers, Iron Workers, Machinists, Plumbers, Laborers and Painters as well as North America’s Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, and federation Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, an IBEW member from Portland, Ore., Local 125.
“I think we have an incredible opportunity to make some enormous progress in creating good-paying jobs, Davis-Bacon prevailing wage jobs, to rebuild the infrastructure of this country in a way that everybody knows has to be done,” Biden told the press pool before the closed-door meeting began.
As his campaign’s Build Back Better platform promised, Biden intends to invest $2 trillion in infrastructure, funding a historic swath of project in energy, transit, broadband and more, and the urgent rehabilitation of roads, rails, bridges, and tunnels. That includes a major investment in the power grid, a move demanded by this week’s events in Texas, that will put tens of thousands of IBEW members to work.
“We are so far behind the curve,” Biden said, citing rankings that show the United States lagging far behind other developed countries “in terms of infrastructure, everything from canals to highways to airports, to everything we can do and we need to do to make ourselves competitive in the 21st century.”
While specifics are still to come, Stephenson said Biden’s swift and decisive pro-worker actions since taking office one month ago inspire confidence.
“We’re eager to see the concrete details of the infrastructure plan, but we have no doubt about President Biden’s commitment to do it right and create millions of good, union jobs in the process,” he said.
Biden also sought labor leaders’ support for the administration’s other massive spending plan — the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package designed to put cash in the pockets of desperate Americans and jumpstart the nation’s economic recovery.
On a subject vital to the building trades, Biden reaffirmed his commitment to apprenticeship programs.
That includes expanding registered apprenticeships by reversing the last administration’s executive order that established IRAPS, or Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs.
By undermining training and safety standards and allowing employers to cut apprentices' wages and benefits, IRAPS were a direct threat to world-class training provided by the IBEW and other trades.
“We applaud President Biden’s decision to rescind them,” Stephenson said. “It is one more way that he and Vice President Kamala Harris are opening the doors of opportunity for all working people and building an economy that works for everyone.”
Speaking to the press at the top of the meeting, Biden made no secret of his affection and respect for the people in the room and the labor movement in general — the kind of public embrace that many worker-friendly politicians shy away from.
“I’ve said from the beginning of my campaign, throughout my whole career, the middle class built this country and labor built the middle class,” Biden said.
“A lot of these folks have been my friends for a long, long, long time. As they say in parts of my state, ‘These are the folks that brung me to the dance.’”