President Obama, VP Biden Salute Unions on Labor Day


October 2014


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While much of the country’s workforce was taking a well-deserved Labor Day off, the executive office was busy giving inspirational pro-union speeches around the country. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden both talked about the vital importance of unions in the American economy, while Labor Secretary Tom Perez issued a statement challenging America to boost its efforts for working families.


President Obama was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, to speak at the Milwaukee Area Labor Council’s annual “Laborfest.” He began by thanking the numerous unions and union leaders in attendance, including the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO. Other representatives present included Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees; Lily Garcia, vice president of the National Education Association; Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers; William Hite, general president of the United Association; Joe Hansen, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers; Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Wisconsin), and Mayor of Milwaukee Tom Barrett.


In his speech, Obama stressed the key roles unions play America’s working families, both in the past and today.


“We’re here to celebrate something that sometimes the American people take for granted: the 40-hour workweek, overtime pay, a minimum wage, weekends like this one,” he stated. “All that didn’t happen by accident. It happened because America’s workers organized for it, fought for it. History shows that working families can get a fair shot in this country, but only if we’re willing to fight for it.”


He continued, “I ran for president because I believed in bottom- up economics. I believed in middle-out economics. I placed a bet on you. I placed a bet on America’s workers, and the belief that our economy grows best when everybody has got a shot – when folks who are willing to work hard can get into the middle class and stay in the middle class.”


The president then spoke about his expectations for the economy.


“I want an economy where your hard work pays off with higher wages, and higher incomes, and fairer pay for women, and workplace flexibility for parents, and affordable health insurance, and decent retirement benefits,” he said. “I’m not asking for the moon, I just want a good deal for American workers.”


Meanwhile, Vice President Biden was in Detroit on Labor Day to give a passionate speech on the importance of unions to a crowd of several hundred union members and their families. He spoke on the grounds of the old Tiger Stadium, which was demolished in 2009 and is now a public playing field.


Biden began by thanking the union presidents and political leaders in attendance, including Joe Blocker, president of the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO; United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams; Teamsters President James Hoffa; Senator Carl Levin (D-Michigan); Congressmen John Conyers (D-Michigan); Congressman Gary Peters (D-Michigan); and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan.


The vice president led off his speech with an anecdote that illustrated his union background.


“I had an uncle named Ed Finnegan, who used to look at me, after I got involved in politics, and say, ‘Joey, you’re a laborer from belt buckle to show sole.’ And I am,” Biden said. “And that’s because I still know how to say the word union. U-N-I-O-N!”


He continued, “I talk about unions, because you’re the reason why every other American worker has any of the basic rights they have.”


He mentioned the Federal Labor Standards Act, the 40-hour work week, child labor laws, worker safety standards, overtime pay and minimum wage as being direct results of labor unions taking to the streets when they had to, generation after generation.


“It’s not hyperbole: Unions did, in fact, build the middle class,” Biden said. “And that built the United States of America as we know it.”


Biden said a strong middle class is the reason America has been historically stable, both socially and economically.


He concluded his speech with another anecdote, one that hit home with the union workers and their families that made up the crowd: “My dad used to say, ‘Joey, a job’s about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity. It’s about your place in the community. It’s about who you are. It’s about being able to look your kid in the eye and say, honey, it’s going to be okay. That’s what a job is about.’ And, ladies and gentlemen, you can’t do that unless you get a fair wage.


“Folks, the American people have not stopped dreaming,” Biden said. “The American people have not walked away from what they believe they are entitled to. Just give them a chance. No handout, just give them a chance. Because once you give Americans a chance, they have never, never, never, never, ever let their country down.”


 U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez made his Labor Day thoughts heard as well. In a written statement, he noted, “As a nation, we can do more to lift workers up, and to ensure that all hard-working people are able to climb ladders of opportunity and reach for the American dream. It’s time to raise the national minimum wage, so that no one working a full-time job has to live in poverty. It’s time to update our workplace policies to reflect the realities of the 21st century labor force and to support modern working families. It’s time to continue our nation’s long commitment to supporting unemployed workers by extending emergency unemployment compensation.”


Perez concluded, “This Labor Day, let’s remember that hardworking men and women are the backbone of our country, and let’s redouble our efforts to uphold our nation’s great promise to them: that if you work hard and play by the rules, you can make it in America.”



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