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White House

Biden Meets with Labor Leaders in the White House

They discussed the PRO Act, COVID relief, infrastructure, and apprenticeships

Brian Young's picture
Feb 18, 2021

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris invited union leaders to the White House on Wednesday to discuss investing in infrastructure and the COVID relief bill.

Included in the meeting were AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Secretary-Treasurer Liz Shuler, IUOE President James Callahan, Iron Workers President Eric Dean, IAMAW President Robert Martinez Jr, NABTU President Sean McGarvey, UA President Mark McManus, LIUNA President Terry O’Sullivan, IUPAT President Kenneth Rigmaiden, and IBEW President Lonnie Stephenson.

“As I’ve said throughout my whole career: The middle class built this country, and labor built the middle class,” Biden said in a statement released on his Facebook page. “This afternoon, I met with labor leaders to discuss the American Rescue Plan and how we’ll rebuild our infrastructure—creating good-paying, union jobs in the process.”

In the meeting, the two sides discussed actions that the administration could take to create good-paying union jobs. This included highlighting the importance of passing the PRO Act, $1.9 Trillion in COVID relief, and a big infrastructure package.

“For working people, this was the most productive Oval Office meeting in years. The president and vice president share our belief that rebuilding our infrastructure is critical to our communities,” said Trumka. “President Biden ran on a promise to build back better. As we made clear today, America can only build back better if unions are doing the building. If we make key structural changes to our economy, we can create a new generation of good-paying union jobs. That means delivering long-overdue COVID-19 relief to working families. It means passing urgently needed infrastructure spending. And, it means strengthening working people’s freedom to organize a union by passing the PRO Act. President Biden understands how urgent this is, and we’re looking forward to getting it done as quickly as possible.”

Biden used the meeting to announce that he is reversing a Trump-era Executive Order to create Industry Recognized Apprenticeship Programs (IRAP). These are apprenticeships that are created by non-union employers to weaken training rules and safety standards while lowering apprentices’ wages and benefits. Biden also announced his support for the National Apprenticeship Act of 2021 and said that would ask the Department of Labor to reinstate the National Advisory Committee on Apprenticeships.

“Today’s meeting with President Biden 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,” said Stephenson. “The IBEW looks forward to continuing to work with the administration as we open the doors of opportunity for all working people and build an economy that works for everyone.”

Biden and the Congress are expected to finish a COVID-19 relief package by the end of the month. Although Democrats have a majority in the House and Senate, they have faced pressure from Republicans and within their own ranks about the price tag and whether an increase to the minimum wage can be included in the relief package. Unions are pushing for a large stimulus plan and for the minimum wage increase to be included in the deal, although President Biden has previously said that the minimum wage increase will likely need to be passed separately.

Once that is completed, Biden is expected to push Congress to take up an infrastructure bill as part of his Build Back Better campaign. Last week, Biden held a virtual meeting with members of Congress and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to discuss nationwide infrastructure needs and to figure out what can get passed through Congress. Biden told reporters that the United States is far behind the curve when it comes to infrastructure, highlighting that we rank 38th in the world.

Some of the things that Biden has previously said he would like to address include repairing roads, building out a national electric vehicle charging system, and updating the US power grid with renewable energy sources. The resiliency of the power grid has come under new scrutiny with massive blackouts throughout the south due to winter storms.

“I was honored to join the meeting with union leaders today with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to discuss the President’s infrastructure plan, which will create millions of family-supporting union jobs,” said O’Sullivan. “The plan is exactly what our nation needs and LIUNA’s members are ready for the job. It is time to restore the economic well-being of America’s workers and address our long-overdue infrastructure investment needs.”

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