By Kevin Bogardus - 04/19/10 08:00 PM EDT
Vice President Joe Biden gave a rousing speech on Monday to union members to rally their support for Democrats in the coming midterm elections, saying “we cannot be down on our prospects.”
The former Delaware senator, a stalwart labor backer during his political career, told attendees at the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department conference not to give up on his party’s candidates in 2010.
Union leaders have said it will be difficult to motivate their members come election time if the White House and congressional Democrats cannot move more aggressively on their policy agenda. The labor movement is a critical part of the Democratic Party’s coalition for electoral success, helping with canvassing and campaign ads.
Biden said the Obama administration is working hard to revitalize the labor movement, which has seen its membership decline over the past several decades.
“We are absolutely determined to change the equation. Absolutely determined that labor comes back. Absolutely determined that over the period of this time that we create good, serious jobs from which you can build a family and build a nation,” Biden said.
The vice president is often seen as unions’ most prominent champion in the Obama administration. Since being sworn in, Biden has given a series of speeches to labor groups to thank them for the support that helped propel the Democrats to victory in 2008.
“There is an old joke, but it’s real where I come from. You go home with the ones who brung you to the dance,” Biden said. “You guys and women have been the backbone of my support as a United States senator and my whole career.”
He noted that the working class has been hit particularly hard by the economic crisis, especially those vying for construction jobs. The union’s members are in the building industry, which is experiencing an unemployment rate of nearly 25 percent.
“We know a job, as my dad used to say, is a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about dignity. A lot of people have been stripped of their dignity,” Biden said. “Jobs. Jobs. Jobs. Folks, this is what this is about, but it’s hard.”
The vice president said the administration is doing its best to bring unions back to strength. Often interrupted by applause, Biden noted that the White House issued an executive order that encourages federal contractors to use unionized workers, included wage protections in the stimulus package and has made several labor-friendly appointments, such as former Rep. Hilda Solis (D-Calif.) as Labor secretary.
He also said he was proud that President Barack Obama made recess appointments of Craig Becker and Mark Pearce to the National Labor Relations Board, which he said was a “rigged jury” during the George W. Bush administration.
“The right people in the right places matter,” Biden said.
Biden said labor groups need to lead in what he called a new economy for the 21st century. He encouraged union members to find work in renewable energy, including nuclear power, and high-speed rail, in what is called the “green jobs” sector.
The vice president said if the administration is going to rebuild America’s middle class, it needs the backing of labor.
“When labor loses, the middle class in this country loses. When you lose, America loses,” Biden said. “The reason that there is a middle class in America is because of unions.”