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Biden to CEO's: I'm a Union Guy

He brought together union leaders and CEO's to talk about rebuilding the economy post-COVID

Brian Young's picture
Nov 17, 2020

Ushering in a new climate in the White House, President-elect Joe Biden met with union officials and CEO’s on Monday to discuss plans for the economy and what steps need to be taken to help workers.

The meeting, which was virtual due to COVID-19, and included Vice President elect Kamala Harris, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, Rory Gamble, president of the United Auto Workers, Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union. CEO’s included General Motors CEO Mary Barra, Microsoft president and CEO Satya Nadella, Target chairman and chief executive Brian Cornell and Sonia Syngal, CEO of Gap.

The meeting was the first time that Biden had convened a group of business or labor leaders since he won the Presidential election on November 7th. “I’m looking forward to hearing what’s on your mind,” Biden said to the group. “What is top of mind on Covid and getting back to work safely?”

At the meeting Trumka brought up a few key points that he wanted the Biden administration to focus on including hiring a full time OSHA director which the agency hasn’t had under Trump, making an investment in retrofitting workplaces and classrooms to keep workers safe during COVID-19, and creating a permanent infectious disease standard.

“The most important thing we can do on Day 1 is to reestablish OSHA’s mission of protecting workers” said Trumka. “For four years, OSHA has been AWOL. There’s been no full-time director. There are fewer inspectors today than at any point in the agency’s history.”

The meeting with union leaders and CEO’s was the latest step in Biden forging ahead with his transition, even as Trump refuses to concede the election or allow departments to work with the Biden Transition team. Biden said the objective of the meeting was to “get our economy back on track. We all agree on the common goals, just have a slightly different perspective.”

Playing off of his campaign message of Build Back Better, Biden told the leaders that we can’t just go back to the old economy and said that he remains optimistic that American business and workers can emerge from the crisis stronger.

In a press conference after the meeting, Biden said that he told the CEO’s, “I want you to know I’m a union guy,” adding “that’s not anti-business. Unions are going to have increased power [in a Biden administration].”

The meeting also signified a new day for unions who have largely been shut out of the Oval Office over the last four years. Trump didn’t even meet with Trumka until mid-January in 2017, so a meeting with Biden in the first month of the transition is a huge step up.

“Today’s discussion among labor and business leaders was a productive and honest discussion of the challenges we all face in manufacturing and business to wrestle control of a very difficult situation for our economy,” said Gamble. “The UAW has had productive ongoing discussions with our Detroit-3 counterparts and other employers about protocols to keep our economy moving and at the same time make tough decisions to protect UAW members and all working Americans. But we all expressed today to the incoming administration an acute need for an immediate economic package for those hard hit by this pandemic, help for our states and our frontline providers and specifically to protect the health and safety of UAW members in the workplace. Testing, PPE equipment, and a plan for distribution for a vaccine, when available, are crucial as is the ability for workers, management and government to work together through this pandemic nimbly and efficiently in order to save lives.”

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