AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Tuesday prodded President-elect Joseph R. Biden to champion labor union expansion and spend trillions of dollars to prop up the coronavirus-ravaged economy.
He held out hope that Mr. Biden would be the most “pro-worker” president since Lyndon B. Johnson.
“We’re ready to work with him every day,” Mr. Trumka told reporters. “It’s time to go big. Working people expect nothing less.”
A top priority for labor is for Mr. Biden to sign into law the PRO Act that, among a slew of pro-union measures, would make it easier to unionize workplaces and authorizes stiffer penalties for companies that violate workers’ rights.
The Democrat-led House passed it in February 2020 but the GOP-led Senate did not take it up. It will have a better chance with the new Democratic Senate majority taking over this month.
“It will bring the promise of union membership to every corner of America,” Mr. Trumka said. “We are going to fight for it and this administration, I know, is going to fight alongside us [for] it. So is the Senate and so is the House.”
Republicans are skeptical that Mr. Biden’s union-focused agenda will lift up everyone.
“I have serious concerns that the Department of Labor under [Marty] Walsh will crush our economic recovery by strangling business owners with an onslaught of job-killing regulations, and vindictive and overzealous oversight,” said Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, the top Republican on the Education and Labor Committee.
President Trump and his “America First” agenda drew significant support from union workers, if not union leaders. The GOP’s ability to hold onto those blue-collar votes will be put to the test when Mr. Biden and his Democrats push their pro-union agenda.
Mr. Trumka also said he wants to see new emergency federal regulations to protect workers during the coronavirus pandemic and additional sick-leave and child-care benefits.
“Worker safety is how we begin to defeat the virus,” he said.
Mr. Biden vowed on the campaign trail to be the most “pro-union” president in U.S. history and named Mr. Walsh, the Boston mayor and a former union leader, as his pick for labor secretary.
Labor leaders also want the Biden administration to appoint a “czar” to oversee racial equity issues.
“We need someone dedicated to leading an interagency task force that directly addresses racial injustice in all the places that it exists,” Mr. Trumka said.
Other priorities for the AFL-CIO, the largest federation of labor unions with 55 member unions, include strengthening Social Security, shoring up multi-employer pension plans, lowering prescription drug prices, and lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 50.
“None of this will be easy, but all of it is necessary,” Mr. Trumka said.
One area where labor groups don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with Mr. Biden is trade.
Mr. Biden had long championed free trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which labor groups have criticized for helping speed an exodus of U.S. jobs overseas.
Mr. Biden begrudgingly acknowledged during the campaign that Mr. Trump’s NAFTA rewrite, known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), is a better deal for workers.
Mr. Trumka said the Biden administration now has a big opportunity to “reset” U.S. trade policy and bring in U.S. allies to combat China’s practices instead of trying to take on Beijing alone.
“We believe that we ought to hit the pause button for a while on negotiating new trade deals until major new domestic investments are made in infrastructure and education and training and manufacturing,” he said.
He said he hopes the Biden administration will leave in place tariffs on Chinese goods that the Trump administration had imposed, at least temporarily.
Tom Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, advocated almost the exact opposite approach to trade Tuesday. In his annual “State of American Business” address, Mr. Donohue said America needs to re-engage with the world through a “bold” trade agenda.
“We must catch up to the countries that are inking new trade deals left and right,” Mr. Donohue said. “And we must lift the tariffs that have hurt American manufacturers and farmers and have been paid for by American companies and their customers.”