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Remarks By Vice President Joe Biden To The 2009 Legislative Conference Of The American Federation Of State, County And Municipal Employees

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Location: Washington, DC

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VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: (Cheers, applause.) Hello, hello, hello! (Laughs.)

MR. MCENTEE: Hello, hello, hello!

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Well, I'll tell you what -- thank you very, very much. You're very kind. Please. (Laughs.) Thank you so much. Thank you.

MR. MCENTEE: Hey, hey! They're all from Delaware. (Laughs.)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you. (Laughs.)

Well, I wanted to tell you, Jerry and I have been hanging out for a long time. I was walking down the stairs in the corridor, and they said, "He's about to introduce you." And all I could hear was, "And 100 years old!" I thought, "Holy God!" (Laughter.) We've been hanging around a long time, but I'm not 100!

And that person who was -- had their hundredth birthday, I say congratulations. It's -- it's been only a hundred days. Some say it feels like a hundred years. But I don't think so.

Look, folks, let me start by saying, Jerry, thank you. We have been fellow travelers from Pennsylvania for a long, long time. We're both Pennsylvania guys. But every single, solitary time I've been in the ring, every single, solitary time I've been in the political arena, from the first time I ran, the first time I ran, AFSCME's been with me, and it's the reason I got to be a United States senator. (Cheers, applause.)

And I might add, were it not for the incredible help -- everybody looks back on the election now and says it was a piece of cake, we won overwhelmingly. But let me tell you, you made it cake. You made hundreds of thousands of calls, you went out there, you spent your money, you broke your back, you turned around states that, when we first started this, we weren't expected to win, or there was a doubt about it. So I just want you to know, two of us know that we wouldn't have gotten to this place were it not for all the work you did for us, the president and me. (Cheers, applause.)

My dad used to have an expression. He'd say, "Help me, I appreciate it. Help my son, I'll never forget it." Well, thank you for mentioning my son, Jerry, my son Beau Biden, who's in Iraq. But let me tell you why I want to thank you. Beau Biden's the attorney general of the state of Delaware because of AFSCME. (Applause.) AFSCME stepped up to the ball in a tough race. So we Bidens -- (laughs) -- we Bidens, we owe you. (Laughs.) We owe you.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Bring him home, Joe.

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: I tell you what, we want to bring him home, and God willing, he -- he'll be home in October. (Cheers, applause.)

Look, here's the deal. I've done enough of these conferences to know the last thing you need is a big, old, long speech at the beginning of a conference, from somebody, and then 47 to follow.

But folks, look, let me just say, the best thing I can say to you all -- the most concise way I can express it, as you gather here in Washington -- is to say, welcome back. Welcome back. (Cheers, applause.) This is not the city you essentially left nine years ago. You never left. But the fact of the matter is, it's a different moment.

You know, when we were running the campaign, the thing I liked about working with Barack, with President Obama, was that it was a real simple, straightforward notion we both had, about what we thought our job was if we won, now that we've won. And that is, to restore the economy.

We agreed one fundamental thing. There is no way to restore the economy without restoring the middle class in this country. That's not hyperbole. (Cheers, applause.) There's no way to restore the middle class without organized labor. That is not possible, and I mean that. I mean that. (Cheers, applause.)

Look, ladies and gentlemen, we want the economy to grow again obviously. And it will grow again. And I think it will begin to grow again in a heck of a lot shorter time than anybody thinks. But here's the deal.

There was a period, back in my grandfather's generation, where at the turn of the 20th century, the economy was growing. But people were still getting hurt, Jerry. Good jobs weren't growing.

The economy was growing. The GDP was growing. But we don't measure it a success, we will not consider ourselves a success, as an administration, if we merely and necessarily restore what economists call the GDP in the positive area. We can be growing at 3-3.5-4 percent. But if in the process we're not creating good, sustainable, livable jobs, then we have not met our obligation.

Ladies and gentlemen, from 2001 to 2008, productivity in America, because of you -- you, organized labor -- and a whole heck of a lot of hard-working Americans, productivity grew 20 percent. That means, with the same amount of effort, in the same amount of time, we produced 20 percent more than we were producing before.

It means people worked a lot harder, means people did their job.

And there was a bargain made back in the '30s -- it was simple -- that said when workers make the economy grow, they should not get all, but they should get a piece of the action. That's why it grew. (Applause.)

Well, ladies and gentlemen, that bargain's been broken. From 2001 to 2008, the economy grew, but middle-class Americans, they actually lost over that period $2,000 in income. That wasn't the bargain. That's not the deal.

So understand one thing. We will be measured a success by economists if at the end of our term the economy is growing. But we will not consider it a success unless the middle class is growing, taking a piece of that productivity. (Applause.)

It's a big deal. I know it sounds like just a lot of hyperbole and a lot of talk, but it is a fundamental difference as to how you measure, you measure success.

With your help, we passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, 800 -- $787 billion. The thing I like about this Barack Obama is, he is bold.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes!

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: He is bold. (Cheers, applause.) He knows that small responses to big problems don't get you very far.

So in the face of inheriting a $1.2 trillion debt before we opened the door of the Oval Office and the vice president's office, he came along and he said we got to revive this economy. And who did he turn to for help? You, you personally, and the rest of your colleagues. You made a Herculean effort to help us pass -- which barely passed in the Senate -- that act. It had sweeping consequences for you. It had what we call countercyclical help. Translated, you all lost your jobs -- not all of you, but many of you would have lost your jobs, because as the world economy shrunk, as the U.S. economy shrunk, no matter how good a mayor is, no matter how brilliant a governor is, no matter how much they care, with a shrinking tax base, they can't maintain services. And what are you about? Services.

So, ladies and gentlemen, with your help, billions of dollars went into the states, who are still hard hit, still losing jobs.

And we're going to continue to lose jobs for a while. But the problem would have been exponentially greater, particularly -- particularly -- in your union, I might add, because of the nature of what you do.

So ladies and gentlemen, that was a critical first step in solidifying this economy. We were basically in free fall. The president came along with a bold plan. You stepped up to the ball. You backed it. We passed it. And in the process, we're creating or saving between 3 (million) and 4 million jobs. (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, because of what you did, we're able to cut taxes for 95 percent of the American people. Ninety-five percent. (Applause.) You get more money in your paycheck now. Oh, it's not a lot of money, 60 to 80 bucks a month. But guess what; it's better than nothing. (Laughter.) You said it. And guess what? It's the first time we started to get it right. Middle-class people need the break. (Applause.)

And as you know -- as you know, the act is also making a significant increase in our public sector investment. What does that mean? Jobs. It's money going into the infrastructure, money going into building, rebuilding, roads, bridges, levees, transit systems. It's creating jobs, too. I was up in St. Cloud. They make new hybrid buses.

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: (Cheering.)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Big Lake, huh? Yeah.

Well, you know, they make new hybrid buses at a company up there. All this money the act is giving to transit authorities -- which you guys organize in many cases, people driving those buses, people maintaining, people putting together all that's needed to keep the city transit systems in place -- well, they're buying these buses now. They have the money to buy clean buses, to save energy, to save the environment. But guess what? They got good, decent, high-paying jobs building those buses.

So folks, in fact in the first six weeks since the recovery act became law -- it's only been about six weeks -- I mean, we've been doing the recovery act less than a hundred days -- nearly $38 billion of the $48 billion in transportation recovery act funds have been made available to the states, transit districts and airports. (Applause.)

Now ladies and gentlemen, it's going to take a little while to spend it out. They got to let the contracts, they got to get it moving, but it's in train. We're investing more money in the highway system than at any time since Eisenhower announced and built the interstate highway system. And it's about jobs.

You know, in that short amount of time, 4,300 highway and bridge projects using federal funds have moved forward.

Our recovery act is investing in clean energy, as well, and jobs to create -- (applause) -- to create green jobs that can't be exported. It's building the classrooms that will help our children learn today and compete tomorrow. There's over $100 billion in there for education and education-related activities. (Applause.)

Ladies and gentlemen, it's helping state -- as I mentioned earlier, it's helping state and local governments hold the line against painful budget cuts -- which, again, means jobs.

Every one of the more than 10,000 phone calls you made to support this bill helped make the difference to get this done. It's only beginning, but it is a significant down payment on where we have to go. You made a gigantic difference, and so, first and foremost, thank you. Thank you. Thank you. (Applause.)

You know, I realize I'm repeating myself, but from day one, we've had one goal. It's been to strengthen our economy. And you can't do that without strengthening the middle class. You can't strengthen the middle class without strengthening American labor.

I might add, point out, we had another bargain in the '30s: the National Labor Relations Act. You know what it said? It said it was designed to, not guarantee unions, but to promote unions. Since the mid '70s, Jerry, you and I have been in the trenches, because everything's been arrayed on the business side against -- demoting unions.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: You're right!

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: When I started off as a young senator, 29 years old, you had over close to 30 percent of the workforce was labor. It's half that now -- less than half that.

Ladies and gentlemen, the bargain has been broken. That's why when we got sworn in, the president of the United States asked me to chair -- you know, old middle-class Joe. If I heard one more thing about the scrappy kid from Scranton, Pennsylvania, carrying a lunch bucket -- (laughter) -- I never carried a lunch bucket, but -- but I guess I'm the middle-class guy. By the way, I'm proud of that. I'm proud of that. (Cheers, applause.)

But folks, he asked me to chair a task force called the Middle Class Task Force. Say, well, what in God -- what's another task -- what's that mean, Joe? Well, let me tell you what I do. It means I've been given the authority to call Cabinet meetings, as I do regularly once a week, and I bring in the Cabinet secretaries once a week. Anywhere from five to 10 of them are there, if they're not out on the road. And I have one question, and I follow it every week: What can you do at Treasury on tax policy relating to the middle class? What can you do at HHS on health care, or health care for the elderly, or health care for children? What can you do to lift the burden of the middle class?

What can you do to change the regulations relating to housing to help the middle class? What can you -- because what I want to focus on, and what I've been given the authority to focus on, is to force the administration -- and they don't have -- I mean, it's not like -- they're willing. But there's so much else going on. I just want to make sure at the end of this task force I've arrayed a list of multiple things in each department that we should focus on that actually impact on your life.

If you have affordable child care, that impacts on your life. If you have the ability -- (applause) -- if you have help being able to send your kid to school, that impacts on your life. If you have the ability -- and the list goes on and on and on.

So what will bring the greatest impact on the middle class in this country that we can do from a governmental standpoint.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: (Off mike.)

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: We have a single -- we're getting there, old buddy, hang on. (Laughter.)

With this task force, we have one single high-visibility goal, and that's to improve the lives and raise the living standard of the middle class families. And we've focused on -- on answering those concerns that matter most to families.

How do you create dependable and sustainable jobs? How are you going to make college affordable for families? How can you make retirement secure? How can you make child care and elder care more affordable? How do you improve workplace safety? How can we do -- what can we do to help parents balance family and work?

Look, we believe we need to -- (audio break) -- as I've mentioned before. And that bargain said that labor built this country and labor should get to share the benefits of this country. (Cheers, applause.)

And we're just trying to restoring that balance. That's why, by the way, Hilda Solis was chosen as the Secretary of Labor, the daughter of a union member. (Cheers, applause.) That's why we move quickly to reverse the ban on project labor agreements and overturn previous administration executive orders designed to not only undermine critical government work, but to undermine organized labor and to send out work that's not done as well and even more costly when it's sent out.

That's why -- that's why our budget at the Department of Labor ensures that labor enforcement agencies will actually get to do their jobs and meet the needs of a growing workload that they have. That's why -- that's why we need to pass the Employee Free Choice Act! (Cheers, applause.)

And we're close! Look, here's how I -- (applause continues). Here's how I look at the Employee Free Choice Act. In the federal, state and local governments, where we've made sure that there aren't barriers to union organization, the workforce is 37 percent of organized workers, or 37 percent of all workers are organized.

In the private sector, where we've seen every trick in the book used to prevent union activity, that number is 7-1/2 percent.

Now, tell me what the difference is. Tell me what the difference is. Folks in the private sector don't want to be members of unions, and only folks in the government sector want to be members of unions. No. You know the reason.

The reason is, there has been a steady drumbeat. The guys wearing striped shirts were wearing black shirts, not striped shirts as referees. They've done anything administratively, legislatively and creatively for someone who wants to join a union to join a union.

What it tells me is, there are not a lot more people who want unions -- there are a lot more people who want unions that are getting them. It's a simple proposition.

That's because more than ever, non-union workers get it. They get it. In fact, half the non-union workforce, when polled, says they want union representation. Half the non-union workforce. (Applause.)

And you know why. Because the organized playing field is vertical. That's how it is now. It ain't horizontal. It's like this now. You've got to climb up a hill, with so many roadblocks in our way, to organize, that it's just out of whack. And EFCA simply returns balance to the system. It's designed to just make it a horizontal field, a level field.

Again the bargain in the '30s and '40s was not, we guarantee unions, but that we create an environment that encourages unions. You know, I think, it should be pretty simple. If a union is what you want, then a union is what you should get. It's simple. (Applause.)

Look, I'm taking too much of your time, but here's the deal, folks. You know, if we want to achieve our goals, we -- the president and me, this administration -- we need to make sure you achieve your goals. It's really that basic. (Applause.)

We simply cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement. I believe we are at an incredible moment of opportunity. We haven't been here, Jerry, for the 35 years you and I have been hanging around here. We have never been to this spot in the last 35 years.

I'm always kidding. They kid me about always quoting Irish poets. There's a poet named Yeats who wrote about his Ireland in the year 1916 in a poem. And there's a line in there that more accurately describes today than it does then. He said, the world has changed; it has changed utterly; a terrible beauty has been born.

Well, the world has changed utterly. But it's created an incredible opportunity, incredible opportunity. If we do nothing, it will be terrible. But if we unite, if we unite and stay together, we have such an incredible opportunity to change the landscape.

You know, this is a moment -- (applause) -- this is a moment in which we can build an America that once again is respected in the world, not merely for our -- the power that we exert, the example of our power, but where we can be respected once again for the power of our example.

This is a country -- we are at a point now where we can encourage companies to stay and grow in America, rather than give them tax credits to go abroad; provide affordable, accessible health care to everyone -- and we will this year. (Cheers, applause.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Do it, Joe. Do it! Do it!

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: We can bring good jobs back to our communities, give middle-class people in this country a fighting chance again.

Look, when I was growing up in Claymont, Delaware, our neighborhood was teeming with mothers and fathers who told us -- and we believed it -- they told us -- even though my dad had just lost his job, he had to leave us behind in Scranton like a lot of your families did, a lot of our families, move to Delaware to get a job, when he got a job, bring us on down.

Notwithstanding that, my father was absolutely certain -- absolutely certain when he told us, if we work hard, we play by the rules, if we're honest, if we love our country, there's not a single thing we couldn't do. Well, we believed it, and we did it.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, in the Claymont, Delawares of America, there are not nearly enough parents today who still believe that. Why? Because they did play by the rules, they did do it straight, and they got knocked down. They got knocked down, and no one was there to protect them! No one was there to help them back up.

So it's a simple proposition here. I'll know -- I'll know we did what we needed to do when I walk back through my hometown of Claymont and I hear a struggling mother or father say to their kid, "If you work hard, you play by the rules, you love your country, there's not a single thing you can't do." And ladies and gentlemen, that's the measure. Level the playing field.

And the single best way to do that is rebuild the American union movement. (Cheers, applause.) And anybody who tells you -- anybody who tells you that Americans don't want it, then ask them, why do you represent over 36 percent of the workers? (Cheers, applause continue.) And why, in the private sector, is it only 7-1/2 percent? Don't give up, folks! This is going to be tough, but we can do it. Thanks for your support. Keep the faith. Thank you. (Cheers, applause.)


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