Remarks by President Biden in Honor of Labor Unions | The White House


East Room

11:58 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Jocelyn, thank you.  Please.  Please, please, please.  Thank you, Jocelyn. 

Please, sit down.  Thank you.  I — nothing to it, is there, Jocelyn?  Just walking in and stand at the podium, and — (laughter) — speaking at the White House.  Nothing to it.  You did a great job.  And thank you.  And thank you.

Before I really begin, I want to say that I think one of the biggest things that’s changed is — my dear mother, God bless her soul, used to say, “Out of everything bad, something good will come if you look hard enough for it.” 

And I think one of the good things that’s come out of this godawful crisis regarding COVID is ordinary people who never thought about the technician at the drugstore, never thought about the grocery store worker, never thought about what that firefighter has to do when they go in.  They don’t ask, “Do you have COVID or not?”  Never thought about the people who keep this country up and running before. 

I really mean this sincerely.  It’s not a — it’s not a political — it’s a reality. 

And I think people went, “Whoa, whoa.”  And instead of — which was a good thing — banging pots and pans when people came back from rescuing other folks, I think they began to realize, “You know, this is part of the deal.”  And to use my dad’s expression — and I mean it sincerely — and some — a few of you knew my dad — he said, “Everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity.”  And that’s what the labor union is all about: dignity.  It provides dignity for people who deserve to be treated differently. 

And I want to thank Jocelyn, and I want to thank President Shuler — Madam President.  And I know you didn’t expect to be in this role at this moment, but as I told you before, I believe that the future of American labor is in very good hands.  I really mean it.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

And I want to welcome everyone to the White House.  And I really mean that.  This is your house.  It’s not hyperbole.  It’s a fact.  This is your house.  I wouldn’t be here without you.  That’s, again, not hyperbole. 

In my White House, you’ll always be welcome.  You’ll always be welcome.  Labor will always be welcome.  You know, you’ve heard me say many times: I intend to be the most pro-union President leading the most pro-union administration in American history. 

But I think one of the reasons I’m able to do that is the public is changing, too.  You’ve changed the public; you’ve educated them a lot.

I want to thank the dues-paying members of the Laborers, Marty — (laughs) — Marty Walsh, who’s helping make sure that we keep the commitments across our entire government. 

And before I go any further, I’d like to pause for a moment of silence to honor the hundreds of union workers and essential workers who have died from COVID-19; and to honor a buddy, John Sweeney, who we lost earlier this year, and to honor a truly dear friend, Rich Trumka. 

A moment of silence, please.

(A moment of silence is observed.)

Thank you.  This is real. 

One of the things I admired about Rich is that he understood what people in this economy are really facing.  He, like most of you, felt it in his bones.  He understood what had happened to workers in this country, like you do.  I’ve got to know a lot of you really, really well.  You just feel it.  You taste it.  You understand it.

I — I get kidded by my staff for — all these years, and I say: I trust the person most who arrives at the right decision when it starts in their gut, it goes to their heart, and then they have the ability to articulate it because they — it goes to the brain.  They’re the ones that never back down.  They’re the ones that stay with you. 

The ones who arrive at it intellectually are the ones that are the ones who first — I welcome that, but they’re not the ones who stay to the end. 

And, you know, Rich understood the past and the challenges, like so many of you who lived and led through these moments.  But he also understood the future.  I think he understood who built this country and the tools that were needed to — to build it back and build it back better. 

You’ve heard me say it a hundred times: We’re the only country in the world that goes into a crisis and, when we come out of it, we’re stronger than before we went in it.  That’s by building back better.

We’re going to build back better.  We have to.  We must.  We will.  Because that’s who we are.  That’s what America is. 

On Labor Day, we honor the dignity of the American worker.  And every day, we remember that America wasn’t built by Wall Street.  They’re not all bad folks out on Wall Street.  I’m not suggesting that.  But they didn’t build America.  It was built by the middle class, and unions built the middle class.  (Applause.)

You gave — you gave workers a voice, all the way back from my Great-grandfather Blewitt who was a mining engineer, back in the days of the Molly Maguires and all the way — and folks who were treated in northeast Pennsylvania, in the coalmines.  You gave people a voice.  Molly Maguires was — they — they were a little tougher.  (Laughter.)  You gave them a hard time, and you ended up on the doorstep, in a bag.

But, you know, think about it: What are the basic things — my dad used to say, “You know, we just thought it would give people ability to just be able to take a deep breath, have a little bit of breathing room.” 

And what — what are those things?  Well, healthcare; a pension, God willing; higher wages and a safer workplace; and protections against discrimination and harassment.  That’s not asking too much. 

We fundamentally transformed how we live and how we work in this country.  The reason we have is because of the victories won by labor.  I’m going to be a bit repetitive: the 8-hour day; the weekend; you know, time and a half for overtime; safety standards; sick days — victories for all of us.  Because, I might add, you know, I noticed when you all do that, everybody benefits — (laughter) — whether they belong to a union or not.  (Applause.)  Whether they belong to a union or not. 

When unions win, workers across the board win.  That’s a fact. Families win, community wins, America wins.  We grow.  And despite this, workers have been getting cut out of the deal for too long a time. 

You know, from 1948, after the war, to 1979, productivity in America increased by more than 100 percent while the pay for American workers grew by nearly 100 percent. 

And then along came 1979, and everything began to change.  Productivity in the country has grown almost four times faster than pay since 1979.  That means the workers have been giving much more to their employers’ bottom lines than they’ve gotten back in their paychecks, breaking the basic bargain of this country.   The bargain was: If you work hard and you contribute to the welfare of the outfit you work with, you got to share in the benefits.

Well, that stopped for a long time.  So, you can carve out your piece of the middle class and make it a possibility.  That’s what got taken away for a lot of people.

Instead, some people started seeing the stock market and corporate profits and executive pay as the only measure for economic growth. 

By the way, the stock market has gone up exponentially since I’ve been President.  You haven’t heard me say a word about it.  (Laughter.)   I’m glad it’s gone up.  No problem.

But, look, let me tell you something: My measure of economic success is how families, like mine growing up — working families busting their neck — how they’re doing; whether they have a little breathing room; whether they have a job that delivers some dignity, a paycheck they can support a family on. 

In an economy — you know, in the economy my administration is building, instead of workers competing with each other for the jobs that are scarce, everybody is mad at me because now — guess what? — employers are competing to attract workers, having to raise pay.  (Applause.)

No, I’m serious.  Think about it.  That kind of competition in the market helps workers earn higher wages.  It also gives them the power to demand dignity and respect in the workplace.

Simply put, worker power is essential to building our economy back better than before — it’s…


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