Remarks by President Biden at North America's Building Trades Unions Legislative Conference

Published: Wed Apr 06 2022

Washington Hilton
Washington, D.C.

12:58 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: It's good to be home! (Applause.) Whoa.

AUDIENCE: Joe! Joe! Joe!

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

AUDIENCE: Joe! Joe! Joe!

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. You better stop; I'll start believing it. (Laughter.) Please, have a seat if you have one.

It's good to be home! (Applause.) You know, I look out there and I see an awful lot of you who - as they say in Claymont, Delaware - "who brung me to the dance." And I - no, I really mean it. There is no exaggeration: I'd not be standing here without labor, without union - union labor. (Applause.)

Folks, as we used to say when I was a senator, "If you'd excuse the point of personal privilege" - before I turn to my main remarks, I'd like to - I have to briefly address the horrifying reports of the atrocities taking place in Ukraine and the steps the United States is taking to respond in close coordination with our Allies and our partners.

And I'm sure you've seen the pictures from Bucha and out - just outside of Kyiv: bodies left in streets as Russian troops withdrew, some shot in the back of the head with their hands tied behind their backs; civilians executed in cold blood; bodies dumped into mass graves. The sense of brutality and inhumanity left for all the world to see unapologetically. There's nothing less happening than major war crimes.

Responsible nations have to come together to hold these perpetrators accountable. And together with our Allies and our partners, we're going to keep raising the economic cost and ratchet up the pain for Putin and further increase Russia's economic isolation. (Applause.)

Folks, the steps we've already taken are predicted to shrink Russia's gross domestic product by double digits this year alone. Just in one year, our sanctions are likely to wipe out the last 15 years of Russia's economic gains. And because we've cut Russia off from importing technologies like semiconductors and encryption security and critical components of quantum technology that they need to compete in the 21st century, we're going to stifle Russia's ability and its economy to grow for years to come. (Applause.)

Folks, this is the United States, and we're taking additional steps in lockstep with our Allies and partners to raise the economic pressure on Putin.

First, the United States will impose full blocking sanctions on Sberbank, by far the largest financial institution in Russia, and Alfa Bank, its largest private bank. We're locking down any accounts, any funds that those banks hold in the United States. They'll not be able to touch any of their money. They'll not be able to do any business here.

And, second, I'm going to sign an executive order that's going to ban any new U.S. investment in Russia - more than 600 private sector companies. (Applause.)

Folks, corporate America is stepping up, a change. From McDonalds to Exxon, they've left the Russian market on their own accord - 600 of them. Think about that. The private businesses choosing to leave Russia rather than risk being associated with Putin's brutal war.

And this ban on investment is going to make sure that new money cannot come in to Russia to replace what's left so that the Russian economy doesn't feel the loss - and the loss of these businesses for the long term.

Third, we're adding more critical state-owned enterprises to the list of fully blocked Russian companies. These companies are major revenue generators owned by Russia and the government, which Putin uses to fund himself and enable his war in Ukraine.

They'll also be cut off from doing any business with the United States. They will not be able to access or use any assets they have in the United States.

And, fourth, we, along with our European allies, are adding the names to the list of Russian elites and their families that we are sanctioning. Did you see these yachts we're - that are being picked up?


THE PRESIDENT: No - no, think about it. Think about the - the incredible amounts of money these oligarchs have stolen. These yachts are a hundred - millions and millions of dollars.

Look, these oligarchs and their family members are not allowed to hold on to their wealth in Europe and the United States and keep these yachts worth hundreds of millions of dollars, their luxury vacation homes, while children in Ukraine are being killed, displaced from their homes every single day.

And, finally, we're continuing to supply Ukraine with the weapons and resources to defend their country. Last Friday - (applause) - last Friday, we announced millions in funding to procure new equipment for Ukraine - advanced drones, laser-guided rocket systems.

Yesterday, I signed another package to send more Javelins missiles - those shoulder-mounted missiles that can take out tanks and armored vehicles - (applause) - to keep getting an uninterrupted supply to the Ukrainian military.

You know, we won't be able to advertise every piece of security we give because our Allies and partners are supplying to Ukraine through us, but advanced weapons and ammunition are flowing in every single day.

And as you may have seen yesterday on television, when the Secretary of Defense was being cross-examined by one of our - how can I say it? - our congresspersons - (laughter) - saying, "What have you done?" And he basically looked at him and said, "What the hell do you think we've done? Why do you think they're able to fight? We've trained them and we've given them the weapons." That's what's happening. (Applause.)

Look, thanks to the bravery, the grit, and the fight- - the fighting spirit of the Ukrainian people, Russia has already failed in its initial war aims. Russia wanted to take Ukraine's capital city of Kyiv and topple its democracy and elected government.

Today, Kyiv still stands, and that government still presides. This fight is far from over. (Applause.)

And here's the point: This war could continue for a long time, but the United States will continue to stand with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in the fight for freedom. And I just want you to know that.

And, by the way, if I got to go to war, I'm going with you guys. (Applause.) I'll tell you. (Inaudible.) I mean it.

I want to talk about - (applause) - I want to talk about what I'm here today to talk about: You women or men in the American union movement remember, you know, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was first passed, everybody said you "can" have unions. It didn't say that. It says we "should" have more unions. We should. American labor of the Building Trades Unions. (Applause.)

President McGarvey. And, by the way, Dad, Jack - where are you, Jack?

PARTICIPANT: Right in front there.

THE PRESIDENT: I'll tell you what, Dad, as they say in southern Delaware, "You done good with this boy." (Laughter and applause.)

And, you know, I just know Jack is a Philadelphia guy. You know why? He - I just asked Sean. I said, "Where is..." He said, "Well, he's down the shore." Now, if you're from Philadelphia or Jersey, you go to "the shore." If you're from northern Delaware, you go to "the shore." A little bit further south, you go to "the beach." (Laughter.) You go to the beach. You can always tell where someone is from.

And, Dad, I asked whether or not - whether or not you - like my wife Jill, who is from Philly - still talks about "Broad Street." The Broad Street Run, you know? And - and, you know, "Jeet, yet?" You know? (Laughter.) You know, I - I had to learn to speak Philadelphian when I got married. (Laughter.)

But, Dad, it's an honor to meet you from a distance here. Thank you.

MR. JACK MCGARVEY: Thank you very much.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. (Applause.)

Look - it's good to be with you all, and I mean that.

You know, there's an old expression, as I said earlier: "You go home with them that brung you to the dance." And you all - you folks brought me to the dance. And the people that brought me to the dance were union workers - not just workers, union workers: IBEW, Ironworkers, Boilermakers, Teamsters, Laborers, Bricklayers, Masons, Plumbers and Pipefitters, Painters, Plasterers, Roofers, Operating Engineers, Steel Metal Workers. You're all represented in this room - and so many more who are not in the building trades that are union members across the country.

I want to thank you for what you did to support my election this last time out.

I remember going to a guy sitting down here a little further to the right when I refused to - I wasn't going to introduce my - my climate plan until I decided I was going to speak a guy from the IBEW because I wanted to make sure you all knew what I was doing and why it not only was good for the environment, but good for labor. And I sat down with that guy right there. And he thought about it, and he went out and he talked to other people, and you all stepped up.

And I mean it sincerely: You're probably the biggest reason why I'm standing here today. I've never forgotten not only what you've done for me but, more importantly, what you've done for this country.

You're the ones who literally built this country, and that's not hyperbole. And you heard it a thousand times when I was running for office, that we're going to build this economy not from the top down anymore, but from the middle up and out. That's how you build America.

Because we know that when the middle class does well, the poor have a way up and the wealthy are just fine. And that's exactly what we're doing.

And, by the way, the reason there is a middle class is because of unions. Unions. (Applause.) Fact. Unions. That's a fact. (Applause.)

That's true. And look, it's not only to provide a good living but what you do more than anything else - what my dad used to say - you allow people to have dignity - the dignity of their work, to be treated with respect.

When it comes time to rebuild the economy - before I did anything, as I said, I talked to you. I laid out my plan for economic growth. I talked with a lot of the folks sitting behind me here and others in the union movement. And with your help, it was a darn good plan.

And look at the results: Our economy created 431,000 jobs in March - (applause) - 7.9 million since I became President. More jobs in 14 months than any President in the history of America has ever created because of you.

Unemployment is down to 3, 6 - 3.6 percent from 6.4 when I took office - the fastest decline in unemployment from the start of a term of a President ever recorded because of you. And the economy grew 5.7 percent last year - the fastest growth in 40 years.

I know people are still hurting. I'm not - I'm not unaware of it. As my dad would say, every time that price of gas went up at the pump, guess what? It was a conversation at our kitchen table that mattered. It'd affect outcomes. It affected what we did.

But in the process, we were able to cut the deficit by $360 billion last year. And it's been a long, tough stretch, but Americans are back to work. Our economy has gone from being on the mend to being on the move.

It started with the American Rescue Plan. When I took office in the midst of the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, you all remember the lines of cars stretching for miles, waiting for a box of food to be put in their trunk - not just poor folks, folks across the board waiting for that box of food.

Because of the American Rescue Plan - helped 41 million Americans put food on their table. Because of the American Rescue Plan, we helped keep a roof over the heads of 4 million people. (Applause.)

When you helped get that plan passed, 4 million people were on the verge of being evicted from their homes and apartments. That's a fact, not a joke. Four million.

The Rescue Plan put money in the pockets of hardworking Americans who, through no fault of their own, were in trouble, giving families what my dad used to call "just a little bit of breathing room." "Just a little bit of breathing room."

Because of the Rescue Plan, we had the best year of state and local job growth in 20 years, adding back 467,000 jobs; and the educators, firefighters, police officers who were laid off got back on the job. We made a - you made a gigantic difference.

In addition, because of the Rescue Plan, 320,000 construction jobs last year. (Applause.) 320,000. You're building America again! (Applause.)

I meant what I said. We're the only nation in the world that's come out of every serious problem we've had stronger than when we went in.

And there are now more construction jobs today than we had before the pandemic.

A leading financial firm, Moody's, from Wall Street, estimates that because of the Rescue Plan, 4 million more jobs were created and unemployment is 2 percent lower than it would have been had we failed to act.

But, look, that wasn't all we did to the Rescue Plan. We also included the law called the Butch Lewis Act - (applause) - you know what it is; most people don't - to ensure that as we rebuilt America, we upheld a promise - a promise to secure a dignified retirement for millions of workers and retirees all across America, protecting pensions you all worked so damn hard for, you sacrificed to secure.

And it didn't stop there. Because we can't compete for the jobs of the 21st century if we don't fix our infrastructure. That's why it was so important to pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. You know, and now not only is it "Infrastructure Week" finally arrived, it's infrastructure decade. Infrastructure decade. (Applause.) No, for real.

Already - already, as all of you know, we've announced nearly $5 billion to improve 3,000 airports across 50 states this year. We've announced $5 billion, including $615 million this year alone so Lonnie Stephenson and the IBEW can get to work building a national network of electric vehicle charging stations - 500,000 across the country.

We've announced $4.7 billion to cap and plug hundreds of thousands of orphaned wells and gas wells spewing methane into the air, creating jobs as good as the jobs the folks who dug those wells got paid in the first place. Same folks.

Folks, nearly $17 billion for ports, waterways, and dams; 700 projects already announced across 50 states; $52.5 billion for highways and road repairs this year; $5.4 billion for bridges this year. The I-5 Bridge over the Columbia River in Washington State. (Applause.) The I-95 Bridge in West Haven, Connecticut. The Jefferson Highway, U.S. 61 in East Baton Rouge Parish in Louisiana. The list goes on.

And not only that. We're getting rid of poisonous lead pipes in 10 million homes and 400,000 schools and childcare centers - (applause) - so kids and families can have drinking water that doesn't poison them.

Look, folks, this is America - the United States of America. We're investing $65 billion to deliver affordable high-speed Internet everywhere in America - urban, rural, suburban, and Tribal communities. You can't be a country where a mother has to pull, with her child, up in her car to a McDonald's parking lot to connect to an Internet so the kid can do their homework.

I mean, think about that. It's the United States of America.

Look, this law puts an end to that and creates thousands of jobs doing it - good-paying jobs. (Applause.)

And, look, what this means for all of you is jobs - good-paying union jobs; jobs you can raise a family on; jobs you - can't be outsourced.

This is about more than rebuilding our infrastructure. It's about rebuilding our middle class. I'm so sick and tired. I was raised by a dad - not a joke - who, when things would go bad - I remember we lived in a - we weren't poor, but we lived in a three-bedroom, split-level house with four kids and a grandpop living with us. And I - looking back on it, we thought it was great, but I wonder how my mom and dad thought about it. (Laughter.)

Because - and I remember one night - true story - I remember on my - my headboard with a bunk bed I was in. We had two sets of bunks in my - in our room. And one was up against the wall that divided between my mom's bedroom and ours. And I could tell my dad was restless; I could hear him. And I asked my mom the next morning what was the matter. She said, "He just found out he lost insu- - we lost our insurance, honey. We lost our insurance."

Well, guess what? You - you are the ones who keep millions of people from losing their insurance. Unions built the middle class. We have to rebuild the middle class.

That's why we made sure that the Infrastructure Law included significant labor protections. For example, overwhelming - the overwhelming majority of the funds included in this law are subject to Davis-Bacon requirements. (Applause.)

And, by the way, as you may remember, when I - the - President Obama asked me to do the Recovery Act back in our administration, the previous one, we didn't do anything you guys didn't do. If they wanted the money, they had to show me that they were doing it and prevaying [sic] - paying a prevailing wage.

As you know, that means folks who are rebuilding the country are going to earn a prevailing wage now. And, by the way, the Labor Department, led by a proud former president of the Laborers' Union 223, Marty Walsh - (applause) - good man. If I'm in a foxhole - if I'm in a foxhole, I want Marty next to me. (Laughs.) Look, he recently proposed a new regulation to strengthen prevailing wage.

Another thing the law does is help expand registered apprenticeships. Wasn't it wonderful when businesses said, "Don't worry, we'll do the apprenticeships"? Wasn't that a great, generous thing for them to do early on? Well, come on, man - union partnerships that allow workers to earn while they learn, that matters.

Because laying a strong foundation for the future of this country is about more than having strong roads and bridges, ports and airports that can compete with any in the world. It's also about making sure that here, in America, folks who work hard and live their lives, they have an opportunity to live it with dignity and respect. That's what unions are about, in my view - about providing dignity and respect for people who bust their neck.

That's why I created the White House Task Force on Worker Organization and Empowerment to make sure the choice to join a union belongs to workers alone. And, by the way - (applause) - by the way: Amazon, here we come. (Applause.) Watch. Watch.

Well, it's why I've called on Congress to finally pass the PRO Act and send it to my desk. (Applause.)

And that's why we're strongly encouraging grantees who get infrastructure funding to use - use what we know as the project labor agreements - you know what they are; the vast majority listening to this won't know - which helps ensure that people building major projects are well-trained, highly-skilled workers who have a voice on the work site.

Look, you all know why this matters. Union members get higher wages and benefits like healthcare and insurance and paid leave; protections against discrimination and harassment; safer, healthier workplaces.

But there's another reason - the basic American reason: Workers who join a union gain power - the power over the decisions that affect their lives.

When you've got a union, workers' voices are heard and heeded. Unions provide, in one word, democracy in the workplace. Organizing, joining a union - that's a democratic and democracy action - in action.

Unions aren't just good for the workers who join them. Rebuilding America with union labor is smart for business and the American public and for our entire country.

Union workers - and I'm not just saying because you're sitting there, but giving you my word - you're the best in the world at what you do - highly skilled, highly trained. You've got a voice in the workplace, a sense of ownership in the project.

When union workers are on the job, projects are completed efficiently and they're completed professionally. That's good for the American taxpayer. It's good for families in every neighborhood where infrastructure projects are underway, and -

So we're going to keep investing in you and your families. We can and we must do more.

For example, there are nearly 1.2 million extremely qualified women who haven't returned to the workforce. There's a simple reason: There's no affordable childcare for them. (Applause.) Many families pay up to - in this city and other major cities, they pay up to $14,000 a year for one child.

When I got to the Senate, as some of you know, right after I got elected in November 17 - in December 18th, after that election, I got a phone call saying my wife and daughter had just been killed. A tractor trailer broadsided them, and my two boys weren't al- - weren't supposed to make it. My boys did make, thank God.

But the point was, everybody thinks I commuted every day because I was this good

father wanting to go home. That's true. But - but I couldn't afford daycare. So I had my mom and my sister and my brother - I had to do it from home. I had no choice. And I was making a good salary. I think, at the time, we were making $42,000 a year, which was a fair amount of money. I couldn't afford childcare. And these women can't afford it either.

If you capped childcare, as I have proposed, at 7 percent of a family's income making less than 125 grand a year, it could cut co- - in half the costs of childcare, saving thousands of dollars and freeing so many people to be able to go back to work, particularly these women who are totally qualified but have no alternative but to stay home.

Or take prescription drugs, like insulin. Many of you know people who have Type 1 diabetes - another reason for insulin. Do you know how much it costs to make that vial of insulin? Ten dollars - T-E-N. Ten dollars.

But you see families paying, on average, over $641 a month for that insu- - up to $1,000 a month. Think about those 200,000 kids out there - maybe some of your children - who have Type 1 diabetes. Two hundred thousand.

And think about what it does to a parent who looks at their child, doesn't have insurance, doesn't have the cash, and wonders, "My God, what am I going to do? I have no idea how we're going to pay for what we need so desperately."

It not only puts the child's life in jeopardy, it strips you of your dignity. How can you look at your child, knowing they need this but there's no way? You don't qualify for it because you're making some money, but you don't have enough money to pay for that monthly bill.

It's easy. We can cap insulin at $35 a month. They'll still make 350 percent profit.

Look, there's so much more we can do if we let Medicaid be able to do what they do. Those of you who are veterans, they negotiate - Veterans Administration negotiates with Medicare for the pri- - for the price they charge. It's a big deal. They still make a lot of money.

But what's going on now - we can do it all without adding to inflation. You don't have to believe me that - about that. Seventeen Nobel laureates in economics within the last six months wrote to me independently and said, "Guess what? If you do what you're talking about, it will not only not increase inflation, it will reduce the impact on inflation."

We can do this without raising a penny in taxes on anyone making under $400,000. We have to do it. All we have to do is ask the wealthiest Americans among us and major corporations to pay their fair share - just a little bit more. (Applause.) Really. Not a joke. It's not a joke.

I made a commitment: No one making less than $400,000 in my administra- - while I'm President will pay a many - a penny more in taxes. That's why I held up the passage of the - of the Infrastructure Bill. They wanted to add a fee for highways. I said, "No. People - ordinary people are going to be paying for that. I'm not for that." We got to have everybody chip in and pay their fair share.

Look, folks, there's no reason why someone making $10 million a year should pay a lower tax rate than a married couple who are a firefighter and a schoolteacher. But that's how it works. (Applause.)

I mean, for real, there's no reason why, in 2020, the 55 of the companies - Fortune 500 companies paid zero in federal income tax and they made $40 billion. Zero. Zero.

Look, I'm a capitalist. If you can go out and make a million or a billion dollars, go at it. But for God's sake, chip in and pay your fair share. (Applause.)

I think - you know, a lot of my friends are registered Republicans living out there. They think that too. I mean, it's just so outrageous. That $2 trillion tax cut, the last guy - what was his name? Anyway, the last guy. (Laughter.) I forgot it. He never showed up for the inauguration, but anyway. (Laughter and applause.)

But all kidding aside - I shouldn't kid. But that tax cut basically went to the top one tenth of 1 percent of the American public. And it didn't grow the economy.

Look, the bottom line is this: The United States is in a position to outcompete the world once again. If we can keep coming together to invest in the backbone of America, there's no limit to what we can achieve.

When I - I wasn't going to run again, as some of you know. Some of you are my friends. But when I finally decided to run - and my kids encouraged it because - anyway, I won't go into that. (Laughter.) But I finally decided to run. And the fact of the matter is I made a judgment that we just had to - there's no reason why we have to keep it the way it's been.

When's the last time trickle-down economy has trickled anybody you know? (Laughter.) No, I'm serious. I'm not joking. I'm not joking.

So, look, I said I was running for three reasons back then. One, to restore the soul of this country. And by that, I meant decency and honor and honesty and what we're going to do to. And two, to rebuild the backbone of America. (Applause.) To rebuild the backbone of America, which is the middle class and working people. And two - and three, to try to unify the country. That's been the hardest thing so far. Not a joke. But we're going to get there, because you can't have a democracy function unless you can generate consensus. You ultimately have to unify it, as angry as I sometimes get.

So, look, America - this is a fact: America has always counted on union workers. And given just half a chance, you have never, ever, ever - not a - you've never let the country down. We're counting on you again. And you can count on me to keep fighting for you, I promise you. (Applause.)

And, folks, let's continue giving working families a fighting chance. Let's face the challenge ahead. And let's keep building a better America. (Applause.)

And one last thing. We're announcing today an investment through the Infrastructure Law - the largest investment in public transit in American history: $20.5 billion. (Applause.)

It's going to accomplish two big things: create more good union jobs using products made in America and reduce pollution at the same time, while making it safer and easier for folks to get to work.

Let's keep going. Let's keep building. Let's keep it on the way. Thank you, thank you, thank you. May God bless you. And may God protect our troops. Thank you. (Applause.)

1:30 P.M. EDT

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