President Joe Biden addresses union workers at Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 on September 4, 2023 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA — President Joe Biden made his seventh trip of the year to the City of Brotherly Love on Monday, telling an audience of union workers that America’s best days are ahead of it, and that support for unions is the strongest it’s been in 60 years.
“I told you when I ran for president I’d have your back, and I have,” Biden said. “There are a lot of politicians in this country who don’t know how to say the word ‘union.’ I’m proud to say the word union and I’m proud to be the most pro-union president … I make no bones about that.”
The president made his remarks at a rally outside the Sheet Metal Workers office on Columbus Boulevard, ahead of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO’s annual Labor Day parade. Despite the 80-degree temperatures and high humidity, hundreds of union workers turned out to hear the president’s Labor Day pitch.
“This Labor Day we’re celebrating jobs, good-paying jobs, jobs you can raise a family on, union jobs,” Biden said. He noted that he’s often been “called ‘middle-class Joe’ like that’s somehow not complimentary. But it’s true,” he said. Biden then repeated a familiar line from his recent stump speech, with an add-on for Monday’s audience: “Wall Street didn’t build America, the middle class built America,” he said. “And unions built the middle class.”
Biden said he would continue to call on Congress “to finally, and fully, pass the PRO Act,” which would amend the National Labor Relations Act to make it easier for workers to organize, and stiffen penalties against employers who violate it. And he ticked off a list of his accomplishments since he’s been in office.
“In my first two years, I created nearly 13.5 million jobs, 800,000 new manufacturing jobs. Where is it written that America will not lead the world in manufacturing?” Biden said. “And the lowest stretch of unemployment below 4 percent in 50 years.”
Indeed, Biden has had a recent streak of economic victories. On Friday, the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that national unemployment rose slightly in August, to 3.8%, up from 3.5% in July, and the economy added 187,000 jobs, more than the 170,000 expected, and up from the 157,000 jobs added in July. Experts interpreted the rise in the unemployment rate as a sign the economy is expanding and more people are looking for work. And last week, the Biden administration proposed a new rule that it estimates would make 3.6 million more workers eligible for overtime pay.
And in Pennsylvania, the outlook for workers is similarly positive. According to a new report from the Keystone Research Center, Pennsylvania added 23,000 union jobs in 2022, and had a record-low 3.5% unemployment rate in July. For the first six months of the year, there were about 0.7 unemployed workers per job opening, meaning there are still more job openings than workers. And, the report found, between March 2022 and March 2023, workers in the Keystone State saw 7.6% increase in their average weekly wage, a 1.7% increase after adjusting for inflation.
“Joe Biden’s got receipts,” Daniel Bauder, president of the Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO told the audience before Biden took the stage. “He’s the best union president we’ve ever had.”
Biden won Pennsylvania in 2020, capturing its 20 electoral votes and moving it back into the blue column. The Keystone State flipped red in 2016, helping Donald Trump secure his first term in office.
Trump is leading the race for the GOP nomination for 2024 by a wide margin over other candidates. He visited Pennsylvania last month, stopping in Erie for a campaign rally where he insulted Philadelphia: “Has that city gone to hell or what?”
Since announcing his reelection campaign, Trump has been indicted in four different cases, two of them directly tied to his attempts to stay in power after losing his bid for reelection. A federal indictment handed up last month alleges that Trump began working against legitimate election results in Pennsylvania on Nov. 11, 2020, when he “publicly maligned” a Philadelphia commissioner, then repeatedly communicated with the acting attorney general and acting deputy attorney general about false allegations that Pennsylvania reported 205,000 more votes than voters.
On Monday, Biden saved his most pointed criticisms for Trump, but didn’t mention him by name. “The guy who held the job before me was just one of two presidents in history who left office with fewer jobs in America than when he was elected to office,” he said. The other president, Biden added, was Herbert Hoover.
“The great real estate builder, the last guy, he didn’t build a damn thing,” Biden said. “Under my predecessor, infrastructure week became a punchline, but on my watch, infrastructure has been a decade and it’s a headline.”
“When the last guy was here, we were shipping jobs to China,” he said. “Now we’re bringing jobs home from China. When the last guy was here, your pensions were at risk. We helped save millions of pensions with your help. When the last guy was here, he looked at the world from Park Avenue. I look at it from Scranton, Pennsylvania, I look at it from Claymont, Delaware.”
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