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Biden Praises Unions, Denounces Trump, In Address To State AFL-CIO

Joe Biden addressed a convention of the state AFL-CIO Tuesday morning

Former Vice President Joe Biden addressed an online convention given by Pennsylvania’s AFL-CIO Tuesday, mixing praise for union workers and criticism of President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus.

In a quarter-hour speech he joked was given while he was “locked in my basement,” Biden blasted Trump for "failings and delays" in responding to the global pandemic.

"Folks, I’m going to be honest with you: It’s going to be an incredibly hard week for the country," Biden said early. "We’ve already lost thousands of Americans to this pandemic, and we’re going to lose, I’m afraid, many more in the days ahead." But Trump, he said, was "not prioritizing workers. He’s not getting out of the way and letting the scientists make the judgments.”

In particular, Biden noted that the Obama administration had drafted regulations to safeguard workers from infectious diseases. The rules would require employers to have protective equipment where necessary, and to come up with plans to limit disease spread.

The Obama administration had authored a draft proposal by the end of its term. But Trump's White House, which has shown more zeal for eliminating regulations than promulgating them, put the proposal on the back burner.

"Instead of taking action to protect workers against future pandemics, the Trump administration shelved it,” Biden said. Labor leaders were pressing for similar rules to be passed as an emergency response, Biden said, but “in a Biden administration, that standard already would be in place.”

“The coronavirus is not Donald Trump's fault,” he added. “But he does bear responsibly for our response, and taking his duties seriously. It’s about doing the job as a president.”

Biden contrasted that record with the work of union members, “who literally are carrying our nation on our backs, like labor has always done. … We’re seeing what solidarity means when you put it into action.”

And if there was something positive to be said about the crisis, he said, it was that it was shining light on the work not just of healthcare workers and first responders, but of often-unsung workers like grocery store employees and bus drivers.

“Here's what I hope comes out of all this: better appreciation … by people who don't even think about unions, or been convinced that unions are a problem and watched the sacrifices that you make to protect the people you don't even know.”

Biden was the marquee speaker for the two-day online gathering: Earlier speakers Tuesday included state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and U.S. Senator Bob Casey.

Casey hailed Biden’s comportment at a time of crisis: "The way he is leading as a candidate and as an American voice for calm and for a real focus, is a dramatic contrast to what we’re seeing by the leader of the executive branch.”

On Tuesday, Casey had joined other Senate Democrats in proposing a “Heroes Fund” that would provide a $13 per hour pay hike for essential workers through the end of the year, and a $15,000 hiring bonus to attract workers to essential jobs. But speaking to the AFL-CIO, he noted that Republicans in the Senate had already battled against efforts to enhance unemployment benefits.

“This election is by far the most important election at least since 1932,” he said, referring to Franklin Roosevelt’s win amid the depths of the Great Depression. “No other election since 1932 comes close, and we’ve got to make sure that we win.”

Just months ago the state annual labor convention figured to draw far more attention. Earlier this year, it had been slated for Philadelphia and seemed likely to draw several candidates – and a slew of reporters – in a Democratic field many expected to be robust through Pennsylvania’s primary.

But that primary’s original date, April 28, was pushed back into June. A labor dispute in Philadelphia prompted union leadership to plan a shift to Pittsburgh – and then the coronavirus moved the whole event online. And a stunning surge by Biden in South Carolina and other primaries winnowed the field down, putting him in the top position of what is now a two-man race.

Biden’s rival, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, did not address the convention. State AFL-CIO leader Rick Bloomingdale told members that “We invited both candidates to appear, just as we did in 2016” – when Sanders was challenging Hillary Clinton. “For whatever reason, Bernie Sanders declined our invitation, Joe Biden accepted it.”

The AFL-CIO has not endorsed a candidate.