Biden Launches Reelection Campaign With Union Members in Philadelphia

People wait for President Joe Biden to arrive to speak at a political rally at the Philadelphia Convention Center in Philadelphia, Saturday, June 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

By Sean Kitchen

June 17, 2023

Union members and labor leaders from across the region rallied at the Philadelphia Convention Center as Biden kicked off his campaign for reelection.  Biden has referred to himself as one of the most pro-labor presidents in US History. 

President Joe Biden kicked off his reelection campaign with union members and labor leaders from around Pennsylvania at the Philadelphia Convention Center on Saturday. 

Biden officially announced his bid for reelection in April, but Saturday was Biden’s first official campaign event, an indicator of how critical he thinks Pennsylvania is to his quest for a second term—and Pennsylvania working people are to his agenda.

Before arriving at the Convention Center, Biden visited the Interstate 95 collapse site. The section of the highway collapsed last Sunday when an oil tanker crashed and exploded. Biden promised that the highway will be ready for travel in the coming weeks.

As Biden walked onto the stage, the crowd of union workers was chanting “We want Joe.” During his speech, Biden highlighted his first term accomplishments, which included his response to the pandemic, passing the American Rescue Plan, the CHIPS and Science Act and taking on climate change while also creating union-paying jobs. 

The president also took the time to call out the growing billionaire class and the bankers on Wall Street. 

“Wall Street didn’t build America. You did,” Biden declared to the audience. “I’ve been saying this for a long time. Long before I ran for president. The middle class built this country and you built the middle class … If the investment bankers in this country went on strike tomorrow, no one in this place would notice. No, think about this in the literal sense. If this room didn’t show up for work tomorrow, the whole country would come to a grinding halt.”

Towards the end of his speech, Biden talked about the staggering growth of income inequality.

“We used to have 750 billionaires in America. Now they tell me it’s about a thousand because of the last administration,” he said. “They pay a lower tax rate than school teachers, than firefighters, and anyone in this room.”

Throughout his first term in office, Biden has promised to be the most pro-labor president in US history. He appointed Marty Walsh, the former mayor of Boston and former leader of the Laborers’ Local 223, as Secretary of Labor as one of his first signs of supporting unions. Walsh was the first labor leader to serve in that position in over 40 years.

Two of Biden’s major legislative accomplishments from his first term, the American Rescue Plan and the Inflation Reduction Act, were major boons to union members across the country. Funding from the American Rescue Plan helped save the pensions of hundreds of thousands of workers across the country, including an estimated 1,300 in Pennsylvania. The Inflation Reduction Act, meanwhile, includes provisions for prevailing wages, apprenticeship programs and workforce development. 

In March, Biden delivered his budget address at the Finishing Trades Institute in Philadelphia—which got funding from Biden’s infrastructure law—and told members of District Council 21, “I don’t know if you know this or not, the only reason I’m standing here is because when we needed help, you helped me…I’m president because of you.”

In a statement, Daniel P. Bauder, President of the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, spoke of Biden’s pro-union stances, saying, “Since taking office, President Biden has stood shoulder to shoulder with working people. His policies helped shape our economy from the bottom up and middle out and created millions of family-sustaining union jobs.”

In order for Biden to win reelection, he must preserve the “Blue Wall” and union votes in states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

According to Blue Compass Strategies, a progressive research firm, union voters in Pennsylvania accounted for 30% of the electorate in 2000, with 65% of that vote going to Al Gore. The total share of union voters in the commonwealth dropped to 18% in 2020, and exit polls had the union vote split between Biden and Trump. CNN’s exit poll had Trump carrying union voters 51-49% while the AP VoteCast had Biden winning the union vote 52-47%. 

Those numbers improved during the 2022 midterm elections. Union voters supported now-Sen. John Fetterman 52-45% and Gov. Josh Shapiro 60-38%.

The broad decline in union membership and labor support for Democrats didn’t occur naturally. During the last two decades, unions in those three key swing states have faced an onslaught of attacks from right-wing funded think-tanks and legislators in order to weaken their ability to bargain for better pay and benefits and diminish their voting power during elections. Right-to-Work laws were used as a tool to weaken the ability for unions to organize members and their political effectiveness. 

Jeffrey Yass, who is Pennsylvania’s richest billionaire with a net worth of $30 billion, is an emerging GOP mega-donor and the driving force behind Pennsylvania’s anti-union movement. Yass has spent over $60 million on federal candidates and political action committees, and Spotlight PA reported that he has spent over $35 million on Pennsylvania politics alone since 2019.

Shanna Danielson, a music teacher from York County and member of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, traveled to Philadelphia, she said, to be “part of this massive coalition of labor in America that is coming together to support Joe Biden and Kamala Harris early for 2024 to show how important it is that we keep someone in the White House who understands labor and will put workers first.”

Gilbert Johnson, a lifelong member of Glaziers Local 252  from Philadelphia, said the importance of Biden rallying with union members “shows that he’s going to support unions. That he has supported them and that he’s going to continue to support unions for good paying jobs for American people.” 

When asked what it meant to be a union member, Johnson said, “A union member is having the backing and support of the union and you can support your family and the great benefits you get out of it—the skill you are taught through the union and the great pay.”  

Correction: An earlier version of this story mistakenly referred to Shanna Danielson as an art teacher. She is a music teacher. We regret the error.

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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