Remarks at an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Convention in Chicago, Illinois
The President. Hello, hello, hello! Thank you, thank you, thank you. I want to start off by saying two things. Number one, the only reason I'm standing here as your President of the United States of America is because of the IBEW came on with me early.
And secondly, is Delaware in the house? Anybody from Delaware? [Applause] Holler loudly, man, because I want to see you after this is over.
Folks, please sit down. Please sit down.
Well, Lonnie, I want to thank you. You're a—a dear friend and one of the great leaders of labor of our time. I mean that. You've been there every time.
And I also want to thank the IBEW leaders Kenneth Cooper, Chris Erickson, Paul Noble. And, as I said early on, the IBEW was with me when I was a kid running for the Senate in Delaware. And some of them are back there somewhere.
And I'm also proud of our Secretary of Labor—a card-carrying union member—Marty Walsh—fighting for union and worker power every day. But, Lonnie, I only have one problem: Sometimes, I can't understand him.
[At this point, the President imitated a Boston accent.]
He talks about cars and car barns and all that kind of thing. I wonder what he's talking about sometimes. But he's the best, man. If you've got to be in a foxhole, you want him with you.
And, folks, there's an expression where I come from: "You go home with them that brung you to the dance." You all brought me to the dance, and I mean it.
I said early on that I was going to be the most pro-labor, -union President we've ever had for a simple reason: You allow—you allow workers to maintain their dignity. You allow them to hold their heads up high. I mean it. It's a lot more than just what you do in terms of their paychecks and their benefits, but it's about their dignity.
My dad used to have an expression. He said: "Joey, a job is a lot more than a paycheck. It's about your dignity. It's about your place in the community. It's about"—and I swear to God it's what he'd say. "It's about being able to look your kid in the eye and say, 'Honey, everything is going to be okay.'"
Well, the union movement in the United States of America is the primary reason why that happened—the primary reason why that happened.
And, folks, look, there's so much—we've done a lot, but there's so much more to do.
So I—basic thing is, first of all: Thank you, thank you, thank you for your support. Thank you. You're the reason I'm standing here today as President. I've never forgotten not only what you've done for me, but what you've done for America. I've said this before, I'll repeat it again—when I spoke to you a couple—about a year ago: You literally built this country.
Every investment banker in America would go on strike, not a whole hell of a lot would happen. But guess what? If you all went on strike nationwide, the country would shut down—shut down.
You've heard it a thousand times when I was running for office—a thousand times: The middle class built this country. Your plan was to build this economy around you, from the middle up and the bottom down—the bottom up.
I'm so sick and tired of trickle-down economics. It only trickles to a few people. When the middle class does well, the poor have a way up, and the wealthy do just fine. As I've said, Wall Street didn't build this country, the middle class did. And unions built the middle class, not labor. Unions built the middle class. That's a true—that's a fact. That's a fact.
With your help, we're seeing the strongest job creation in modern times. We inherited an economy on the brink of a Great Depression—millions of people losing their jobs, losing their homes, but even more importantly, losing hope. But look at the economy today: 8.3 million jobs in my first 15 months in office, a record.
The unemployment rate now stands at 3.6 percent, the fastest decline—the fastest decline—in unemployment at the start of any President's term on record. Jobs and companies are coming home again. We're making "Buy America" a reality, not just a slogan.
Look, folks, our economy has gone from being on the mend to being on the move. You know, it started with my American Rescue Plan. Because of it, we had the best year of State and local job growth in 20 years. We gave Governors—great Governors like the one in this State—we gave them a whole lot of money. We added back 460,000 jobs: critical State and local workers, educators, firefighters, police officers. This includes a record 279,000 education jobs in 2021, because they didn't have the tax base to be able to hire them.
The American Rescue Plan provided eviction relief, funding for States and cities to allocate to landlords and renters—help them keep a roof over their heads—5 million households. Remember those long lines you'd see on the television and people lining up in all kinds of vehicles just to get a box of food in their trunk? How quickly we forget people were hurting. And what did the MAGA crowd want to do? Forget it. Forget it.
God, this is the United States of America. The idea that people would have to wait in line an hour, hour and a half to get a box of food in their trunk—it's just unbelievable. You know, the American Rescue Plan helped 41 million people put food on the table—41 million; the money in the pockets of hard-working Americans who, through no fault of their own, were in trouble, giving families what my dad called "just a little bit of breathing room."
And now, not only has "Infrastructure Week" finally arrived after 4 years of the other guy, we can look forward to the infrastructure decade for 10 years. It's a fact. I know you're all over the country. And the projects are coming to you. It's not just for a year; it's for the next decade—10 years.
Here in Illinois alone there are over 6,000 miles of highway, 2,300 bridges in poor condition. This year alone, Illinois will receive 1 billion 900 million dollars in highway funding for roads and bridges and $297 million dedicated—dedicated—to funding for bridges that are in disrepair.
You know, I was going to Pittsburgh a couple of months ago, early——
Audience member. Woo!
The President. Yes, I like Pittsburgh, man. [Laughter] But I was going to Pittsburgh a couple months ago to speak. And as I got there, a bridge going over a culvert about—looked like about 200 yards long and about, at the top, probably 120 feet from the little creek below—totally collapsed. Totally collapsed.
Thank God one of the only things that the COVID crisis did was their kids weren't in school; otherwise there'd be hundreds of kids in school buses going across there at the time. This is the United States of America. The idea we have bridges that are collapsing, or about to collapse—I really mean it—it just drives me crazy to think about it.
And, folks, look, Mayor Lightfoot talked about how Chicago has lead service pipes—more lead service pipes in drinking water than any other city in America, affecting nearly 400,000 Chicago homes. And guess what? That lead causes brain damage, particularly to kids, in those pipes. The law is going to fix that, because every American deserves to be able to turn on a spigot and drink clean water. Nationwide, 10 million homes.
Because of the bipartisan infrastructure law, we've announced nearly $3 billion to modernize more than 300 [3,000]* airports across all 50 States—just like this year. Chicago airports are going to receive—just this year—nearly $100 million that can be used to improve runways, taxiways, and terminals.
You know, some of you may remember, if you're from New York City, when I was Vice President, I landed there to meet with a group of—to go in and speak to a union convention. I came back out to LaGuardia. And when I was in there, I said—and I walked into the terminal and there was a sign—one of the escalators wasn't working. It's the God's truth. I looked up the escalator. It said, "Will be fixed in 1 month."
One of the finest cities in all of America, and you have a sign saying it's going to take a month to fix an escalator. So I made a comment about that at the union I spoke to and the group I spoke with. And it made instant news: "Biden was criticizing"—here's what I said: I said, "If I took you to an airport—blindfolded you, put you in an airport in Beijing and one in New York, and I said to you, 'Where are you: Beijing or New York?'"—you would have thought the Beijing airport was the American airport with no one in it. Not a joke.
And guess what? As I went back to get on Air Force Two, I'm standing there and I get off—I get out of the vehicle, and I'm on the runway, and there's nine guys and two women with their yellow, you know, bibs on and everything, who worked at the airport. I thought: "Oh, God. I'm not going to get up on the train—up on the plane." Do you know what they said? "Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you." And guess what? They ended up investing almost a billion dollars in the airport, and it works.
This is the United States of America! We used to have the finest infrastructure in the world. We were rated number one in the world; we're now rated number 14. The United States of America. Why? I would argue, it's because of the greed of the folks at the top not wanting to get things done.
But, folks, look, we've announced $5 billion, including $615 billion [million]* this year alone so the IBEW can get to work building a national network of 500,000 charging stations all across America. And guess what? This guy here is part of the reason. Not a joke.
He won't remember this, but I met with all the heads of—the CEOs of the major car companies. And you may remember General Motors back then, when I first got elected, was suing California because they said they had a higher standard for emissions than other States, and they couldn't have a local standard higher than a Federal standard.
And so, I talked to Mary Barra. And, about 2 weeks later, she called me and said, "We're dropping our suit. We're dropping our suit." And I listened, and she said, "We're going to go all electric by 2035." Guess what? Five hundred thousand charging stations are going to have to be built as we build these things. And I think this guy is partially to blame.
Look, more than $20 billion so IBEW workers can modernize our electric grid, building larger and more resilient transmission lines that can withstand storms and get new and clean energy to our homes. Think about it, folks: Who the hell but you crazy guys climb up poles in the middle of a storm to try to replace a generator? No, I'm serious. I'm genuinely serious. People don't get—we have to let people know more of what you actually do.
We're investing $65 billion so that highly skilled and certified IBEW—members can deliver affordable high-speed internet everywhere: rural, urban, suburban. Just this week, I announced that 40 million low-income Americans from families of four earning less than $55,000 a year will get high-speed internet installed in their homes for free. Free! Free!
And we worked it out with the internet companies. Nearly 40 percent of households in America will qualify. We can't be a country where a mother has to drive up to a McDonald's parking lot in the evening with her child just so he can get on the internet to do his homework. Again, this is the United States of America, for God's sake.
And what this means to all of you is good-paying union jobs. Jobs you can raise a family on. Jobs that can't be outsourced.
This law is about more than rebuilding infrastructure. It's also how about rebuilding the middle class. As I said, unions built the middle class. And that's why we made sure that the infrastructure law included significant labor protections. For example, the overwhelming majority of the funds included in the law are subject to Davis-Bacon requirements so folks rebuilding our country can earn a prevailing wage.
Look, it's why we're strongly encouraging grantees who get infrastructure funding to use project labor agreements to ensure that workers building the major projects are well trained, highly skilled, and have a voice on the work site.
That's why I continue to call on Congress to fully and finally pass the PRO Act, which makes it easier for workers to organize a union. You know, I'm not just saying this to be pro-union, I'm saying this because I'm pro-America.
Look, when Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act in 1935, it didn't just say that we should "allow" unions. Everybody forgot this for a long time. What it said is, we, the Federal Government, should "encourage" unions and collective bargaining. That's what it said. There's a reason for that.
Let's be clear for our Republican friends: You can't say you're working—you're for working people and vote against the PRO Act. It's not consistent.
Look, you all know why this matters. Union members get higher wages, better benefits and health insurance, paid leave; protections against discrimination and harassment; and safer and healthier workplaces.
But there's another reason: Workers join unions to gain power. That's what it's about. The only way to match power is with power. It's the only way it can be done. You can't count on the good graces of major corporations to decide they're going to help. Power is needed to be exerted to deal with power. Power over the decisions that affect your lives. Unions provide, in one word, democracy.
Rebuilding America with union labor is also smart for business. This is the point I make—and by the way, I'm not getting many arguments from CEOs. It's smart for business. Why? When union workers are on the job, projects are completed efficiently and professionally, and they ultimately save money.
For folks at home, maybe you're not in a union or know anyone who is in a union, but know this: It's hard work. You've got to earn it. Ask a journeyman electricians, anyone—a journeymen electricians here today—no, I'm serious. Think about this. And you guys have got to talk—with all due respect, you've got to talk more about this.
The fact is: It takes 4 to 5 years as an apprentice—8,000 hours of training. Now, granted, you get paid while you're doing it. But the power goes out in a storm—why do you think—who climbs up that pole while the snow and the rain are still coming down? Union workers. They're the best workers in the world. You're the most—this is not—again, I'm not trying to be nice to you all. [Laughter] No, I really—I mean this sincerely.
Why, if you have the capacity, would you not hire a union worker, whatever the job is—not just IBEW, a union worker—to do the job? Seriously.
We all talk about—you go to college for 4 years. Well, guess what? When you've got to be an apprentice and it takes up to 5 years to get your apprenticeship—to go through the program, you're getting a hell of an—you're working like hell. That's why you're the most qualified people in the world—not just here, in the world.
And we're beginning to see the effects of unions and the impact on everything from what you see going on in Ukraine right now. Our stuff isn't falling apart. [Laughter] Theirs is. [Laughter] Theirs is. No, I'm serious.
So, folks, their quality of work is good for the American taxpayer. We're not costing the American taxpayers money. We're saving them money. No, no—I—you guys don't say this enough, quite frankly. If you don't mind my saying so. All in the family here. You don't say it enough. It's good for families in every neighborhood where infrastructure projects are underway.
Look, but here's the deal: Building an economy from the bottom up and middle out doesn't happen by itself. For example, I know folks are concerned about inflation. I come from a family—and I mean this sincerely—like most of you, where if the price of gasoline went up significantly and the price of food went up, that's what we talked about at the dinner table and the kitchen table. It meant a lot. We felt it. We felt it. I understand.
That's why I've got a plan to lower the costs for everyday things that make most people—who work to have, who need it. And that would have fundamentally changed the standard of living if we just made things more affordable. There's more than one way to deal with the impact on a family than what we're doing. And we're going to beat inflation. But beyond that, it's all about the quality of life.
You know, I remember my dad used to say—if he had an opportunity—my dad, I guess, made—back in the late sixties, he probably made the equivalent of $20,000 a year. It wasn't a bad salary, but it wasn't great. He had four kids.
And if someone came along and said to my dad: "I can guarantee that your salary is going to go up 500 bucks a year every year for the next 10 years, or we can make sure your kid can go to college with—a lot cheaper than it costs now. I can make sure your cost of electricity and energy in your home is down, not up. I can make sure that you're going to be in a position where you're going to have—the roads in front of the house are going to be paved. What do you ask for?"
My dad would say, "All the rest relates to my standard of living." That's what middle class folks are concerned about. And not being embarrassed in front of their kids when they can't do something that they know they should be able to do for them.
I really mean it. Again, it gets back to a word that's probably overused in my house. As my grandfather would say, "Maybe it's the Irish of it." But the word "dignity." The simple dignity.
And so there are so many things we can do that don't do anything other than make the country better and don't cost the taxpayers more money if we just decide to be fair and everybody would began to pay their fair share.
Look, folks, you know, an example of my plan would be to let Medicare negotiate the price of prescription drugs like the Department of Veterans Affairs does. We say to the companies that are—the drug companies: "We're only going to pay x number of dollars for the following thing. If you don't want to do that, we're not going to buy any of your drugs." Well, since you've got thousands of people and when you're talking millions of people, they say, "Okay."
But here's the deal, going back to this idea: just making sure we have basic dignity. You know, putting a cap on the price of insulin—many of you have children—or maybe some of you have type 2 diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes need their insulin shots. Need them. It's not like an option—not like an option.
Well, guess what? It costs the drug companies 10 bucks—you hear me? 10 bucks—to make that insulin and—counting in all the research and development they did to get to that point. Yet you know what the average cost of insulin for a month for a type 2 diabetic is? And there's 200,000 kids out there who have type 2 * diabetes. They—the average cost is $640 a month.
Now, what the hell do you do, as a mom or a dad, if you don't have private insurance and you don't have coverage? Not only do you look at your child—I mean this sincerely and from the bottom of my heart. You look at your child, and not only do you worry about where they're going to live—because you've got to divide up what little you have and maybe stretch it out. What do you think it does to you as a parent, looking at your child? Talk about being deprived of your personal dignity.
What the hell are we doing? Why? Think of the difference that it would make for millions of Americans struggling every single month to afford insulin for their child.
Take childcare: In a city like this or any major cities in America, it costs about $14,000 a year per child who's not at school age.
I remember. I was 29 years old. You guys helped to get me elected to the United States Senate. I wasn't old enough to be sworn in.
I was down in Washington, interviewing staff before I was sworn in. And I got a phone call from the first responders in my State. They said, "You've got to come home. There's been an accident." I said, "What happened?" They said, "Well, a tractor trailer broadsided your wife's car with your three kids while they were Christmas shopping." And the poor young woman they put on the phone to tell me said: "And your wife is dead. Your daughter is dead. And your boys are really hurt."
So I went home, obviously. And I didn't want to stay in the Senate. I wanted no part of it. But because of some really fine men—one Republican and five Democrats—they convinced me that, "Well, Joe, just come and stay 6 months. Help us organize." See how smart I was? We had elected 58 Democrats and a Democratic Governor in my State that would have appointed a Democrat. So I said okay. I thought I had to go because—to help.
Well, one of the things I found out was: How am I going to take care of my two little boys? Almost 3 and almost 4. I couldn't afford daycare. I couldn't afford childcare. Not a joke. And I was making $42,000 a year, which was a lot of money, as a U.S. Senator. I couldn't afford it. Thank God I've got a big family. My dad would say, "Family is the beginning, middle, and the end."
My sister moved in, and I bought an old farmhouse. And my brother was single, moved in. Took a barn and turned it into an apartment. Every morning, I'd drive to the train station to drop my kids off at my mom's. I had a lot of help.
But it made me realize: How about that single woman with a high-school education or less, with two little kids without a dad, how in God's name they can make it? And yet how can they go to work?
The point being that if we just said anyone making under—a family making under 120 grand a year would not have to pay more than 7 percent of their income for childcare, we'd cut in half the cost of childcare on a yearly basis, making it easy for—much easier for a whole lot of people to be able to work. It'd put over 200,000 women back in the job market who are leaving only because they can't afford—can't afford—childcare. Folks, imagine what that would mean to the standard of living for a household.
Folks, there's no reason why we shouldn't get a tax credit for weatherizing your homes. Make it more efficient to buy electric vehicles. My plan does that. I met with nearly a dozen CEOs of America's largest utility companies. Literally, a dozen of them came to see me. They confirmed that if we pass the investments allowing families to—if they weatherize their homes, to write it off—a tax credit—it will immediately lower the bills of these families an average of $500 a year.
We can do these things without making a lot of sacrifices. We just ask the large corporations, the wealthiest Americans just to begin to pay part of their fair share of taxes. No one making less—no one making less—no one making under $400,000 a year, I promise you, will pay an additional penny in Federal taxes. I said that at the beginning, and I've kept that commitment.
Meanwhile, right now the average billionaire—there's about 790 of them or so in America—you know what their average tax rate is? Eight percent. E-I-G-H-T. Eight percent. Now—in Federal taxes. But most of you are likely paying two to three times that much.
No billionaire should be paying a lower tax rate than a teacher, a firefighter, an electrician, a cop. No, I mean it. And they shouldn't be paying 90 percent either. If we just moved the tax rate back to 39 percent, we'd have enough money to pay for all these things—for them, for people making tens of millions of dollars.
This is about fairness. It's about dignity. It's about fiscal responsibility.
My Republican colleagues say these programs to help the working class and middle class people—that's—they say that's why we have inflation. They're dead wrong.
Under my predecessor, the great MAGA king, the deficit increased every single year he was President. The first year of my Presidency—the first year, I reduced the deficit—literally reduced the deficit by $350 billion. First year.
And this year—and this year—we're on track to cut the Federal deficit by 1 trillion, 500 billion dollars—the biggest decline in debt ever in American history. It matters to families, because reducing the deficit is one of the main ways that we can ease inflationary pressures.
But pay close attention. I believe in bipartisanship. Right now the majority of our Republican friends just see things differently. They don't want to solve inflation by lowering the costs. They want to solve it by raising taxes and lowering your income.
Now, you think I'm making this up. If I didn't see the actual document, I'd think you—I was making it up. I happen to think it's good—a good thing when American families have more money in their pockets. American workers deserve a raise. All this concern—"American wages went up 5 percent. Oh my God." I thought that we were supposed to see happen.
Republicans in Congress have proposed a plan that will make working families and American families poorer. Now, I'm not—I—you know, I'm not using just a screed about my Republican friends. I get along with a lot of them—used to anyway.
But Senator Rick Scott, a Republican from Florida, laid out a plan in writing——
Audience members. Boo!
The President. The—well, it's called the—I call it the ultra-MAGA plan—"Make America Great Again" plan. It's in writing. And here's what it does: It raises taxes on 75 million American families, over 95 percent of whom earn less than $100,000 a year in a combined income. It would raise taxes by nearly $1,500 per family. It's all in writing. You can go online. They've got it backwards.
I've proposed a minimum tax for billionaires, but congressional Republicans have proposed a minimum tax for teachers, firefighters, and electricians.
And while on this—you know, 55 of the Fortune 500—Fortune 500 companies in 2020—55 of them paid zero in Federal taxes after making $40 billion. Forty billion dollars. Zero in Federal taxes. It isn't right.
I proposed a minimum tax for corporations that asks them to pay their fair share in taxes. Senator Scott's plan lets them off, no pun intended, scot-free. I want to strengthen Social Security benefits to make folks who have worked for their whole lives and have paid into it—make sure they have it.
I want to give Medicare the power to negotiate drug prices. I want States to continue to expand Medicaid. And the ultra-MAGA Republicans' proposal puts—here's what it does: It puts Social Security, Medicare—this is the Republican plan now; the only one out there—and Medicaid on the chopping block every 5 years.
Here's how it works: Their plan explicitly states that, every 5 years it will require a vote on whether or not to continue each of these programs. Republicans in Congress want to put Medicare's very existence up for a vote every 5 years. Same with Social Security and Medicaid.
Now, really, ask yourself: How well are you going to sleep at night knowing that every 5 years everything you've paid into may not be there? Not—this is—this is serious. The MAGA Republicans are going to vote on whether you'll have Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid and what amount you get. Every 5 years, it's reconsidered.
Now, I have to admit, it's unlikely they'll vote Social Security totally out of existence. But what do you think they're likely to do if this were to pass? I've been a—I've been in Congress a long time. I was pretty good at what I did in Congress. I guarantee you what they do every 5 years, they'll hold hostages to get their way.
They'll say: "If in fact you don't vote for this particular thing, we're going to cut Social Security. We're going to cut Medicaid. We're going to cut whatever." The idea you'd have to renegotiate Social Security every 5 years? I mean, this is in writing. Look it up.
You know, they're going to say, "If you don't stop investing in clean energy—because we don't like it, we don't think there's global warming—we're going to cut the following."
Folks, this is not who we are. So we've got to keep fighting for an economy that's about fairness, dignity, and opportunity; that's about America—about America.
And, folks, you know, as my mother used to say, "Out of everything bad, Joey, something good will happen if you look hard enough for it." So let me close it this.
Last month, I visited the main airport in Portland, Oregon, which is undergoing major renovations being funded by the bipartisan—[applause]—being funded by the bipartisan infrastructure law. I met a woman named Lauren of IBEW Local 48. She came up to me. She shared what the job meant to her, how she grew up poor and was raised by a single mom, how she bounced around in different careers until she came in a—until she became an apprentice with the IBEW.
She's putting in her years and the thousands of hours that she needs to put in to become a journeyman electrician. Lauren told me that the airport will symbolize the crown jewel of the Pacific Northwest, but it will also symbolize something else: a better life—a better life—for an IBEW member. That means fairness and dignity in the workplace. And it will be a symbol for a better America because the IBEW is just getting started.
Folks, I promised you that I'd be the most pro-union President in American history, because I know this: In a crisis, America always counts on you. So you can count on me to keep fighting for you! Keep going! Keep building! Keep the faith!
God bless you all, and may God protect our troops. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 4:10 p.m. at the McCormick Place convention center. In his remarks, he referred to Lonnie R. Stephenson, international president, Kenneth Cooper, international secretary-treasurer, and Christopher Erikson, Jr., Local Union 3 assistant business manager for the manufacturing, supply, and 'J' divisions, and Paul Noble, District 6 international vice president, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers; Gov. Jay R. "J.B." Pritzker of Illinois; Mary T. Barra, chair and chief executive officer, General Motors Co.; former President Donald J. Trump; and Lauren Heitzman, apprentice electrician, O'Neill Electric. He also referred to his sister Valerie Biden Owens and brothers James and Francis Biden; and H.R. 842.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks at an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Convention in Chicago, Illinois Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/355867