In speech to AFL-CIO, Biden defends bailouts, jobs-creation agenda

Vice President Joe Biden sought Monday to soothe over raw feelings with union members who have grown frustrated with the lack of progress under Democrats controlling Capitol Hill and the White House. 

Speaking to the AFL-CIO executive council in Orlando, Fla., the vice president touted the Obama administration’s jobs-creation agenda and promised not to  give up until the economy is back on an even keel. 

He also looked to explain government relief for Wall Street to labor unions, who have blasted the help provided to big banks. 

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Biden said bailouts by the administration of financial institutions and auto companies were necessary in order to protect jobs all over America. Without the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program, unemployment would be even higher in the country, Biden said.

“Had we not done those unpopular things ... we wouldn’t have any shot, any shot at all,” Biden said, according to the Associated Press. 

The vice president said the White House understands the frustration of ordinary Americans when they hear of million-dollar bonuses for executives at failed banks. But Biden said the labor movement can be part of the solution by helping to promote manufacturing in the renewable energy industry, such as wind turbines and solar panels. 

“That’s a new economy. That’s where labor is going to lead. That’s where you’re going to get to organize,” Biden said, according to the AP.

More than a year after President Barack Obama was inaugurated, the labor movement has not seen the success in Washington it had hoped for from the new Democratic president and Congress. 

Unions’ top legislative priority, the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), has stalled in the Senate under an aggressive lobbying campaign by business associations. 

Labor also hasn’t won the public health insurance option in a reform bill, despite its insistence.  

Last month, the nomination of labor lawyer Craig Becker to the National Labor Relations Board was shot down. 

The White House has tried to mollify any disappointment felt by the labor movement, which played a key part in the election of Obama and other Democrats in 2008. 

It continues to reach out to labor’s leaders; last week it announced that Andy Stern, a frequent White House visitor who leads the Service Employees International Union, would be appointed to a commission making recommendations on how to reduce the budget deficit.

And in a report prepared by Biden’s middle-class task force and released last Friday, the administration explicitly endorsed EFCA as a way to improve the lot of the middle class.  

“While raising the unionized share of the workforce would not close the gap between income and productivity, it would help to provide low- and middle-income workers with some of the clout they need to claim a fairer share of the fruits of their labors,” the report states about the bill.

The bill would make labor organizing much easier by allowing workers to form unions by signing off authorization cards stating their intent to organize instead of by a secret-ballot vote. 

That provision, often called “card-check,” has been met with strident opposition from business groups because they believe it would lead to more strikes, cutting down on their productivity. Unions say it would allow workers to negotiate for better wages and benefits, strengthening the middle class.