Viewpoint: Biden most pro-labor president since FDR

Viewpoint: Biden most pro-labor president since FDR
Karen Rubin, Columnist

Taking stock this Labor Day: Workers are sitting pretty in their most powerful and influential position after decades of diminishing might and rights. Some 320,000 workers have engaged in 230 strikes, from the Writers to the Teamsters, hospital and hotel workers and flight attendants, while auto workers and school bus drivers rattle sabers in a demonstration of that clout and recognition that it is fleeting.

Workers are empowered by unemployment rates still at historic lows – below 4% for 19 months, the longest span in 50 years. Jobs creation is still healthy despite Fed Reserve actions raising interest rates to bring down inflation (now 3.2%, still lowest of G7 nations).

The U.S. added 13 million jobs, including 800,000 manufacturing jobs – more jobs in Biden’s first two years than any president’s single four-year term – while the labor participation rate hit 62.8 percent in August, the highest since February 2020, when the pandemic started.

The fact is that President Joe Biden has turned his campaign promise to be the most pro-worker and pro-union president in American history into action. Support for unions is at its highest level in more than half a century (273,000 last year alone joined or were trying to form a union last year and the public has supported the actions), inflation-adjusted income is up 3.5% since the president took office, with the largest wage gains over the last two years going to the lowest-paid workers.

Scoff if you like, but this would not have happened on its own. In fact, the strong labor position goes against the unrelenting auguries of recession and counters the massive layoffs that should result from the Federal Reserve’s steady increases in interest rates which are intended to weaken the labor market (that is, increase unemployment) in order to lower inflation (on the backs of families that work for a living).

In fact, it is proof, positive of Biden’s economic approach – Bidenomics – that boils down to “growing the economy from the middle out and the bottom up,” reversing the insidious “trickle down” policy focused on tax cuts and incentives that actually encouraged employers to shut down American factories and offshore jobs, drive down wages and increase unemployment, and only served to benefit the richest while exacerbating the gap between rich and poor. (CEO pay is now 398.8 times workers’, up from 20-to-1 in 1965 and 59-to-1 in 1989,

Bidenomics aims at promoting public and private investment in manufacturing, rebuilding infrastructure for the 21st century, transitioning to clean energy, promoting research and development. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Act is singly the greatest factor supporting high employment, despite the Fed’s interest rate hikes; already, 37,000 new projects in 4,500 communities across the nation are underway. The Inflation Reduction Act, with its historic investments in climate action, is projected to create 1.5 million jobs over the next decade.

The CHIPS and Science Act, aimed at ensuring the United States continues to lead the world in innovation and prevent the USA from being hostage to global semiconductor chip and supply chain shortages, already has attracted $166 billion in investment and ignited a semiconductor manufacturing boom.

At the same time, under Biden’s Buy in America and Invest in America rules, along with securing a global minimum tax rate, more jobs are being created here rather than employers chasing the cheapest labor and taxes abroad.

The result – that confounds economists – is managing to achieve that illusive goal of steady, stable, sustainable economic growth, busting the “normal” boom-bust, expansion-recession business cycle.

But that’s not all Biden has done to improve conditions for workers and give working families’ financial security “breathing room.”

He has raised prevailing wage standards for construction workers for the first time in 40 years, which will increase pay for one million workers; recovered more than $690 million for more than 440,000 low-paid workers across the nation; workedto ban non-compete agreements that trap 30 million Americans from getting better jobs in their field; and invested in apprenticeships and job re-training.

Biden has issued pro-worker executive orders that extend overtime protections to 3.6 million more workers; restore and expand collective bargaining rights for federal workers; require federal contractors to pay a $15 minimum wage. He has revitalized the National Labor Relations Board that oversees workers’ protection and rights. He has implemented the Butch Lewis Emergency Pension Plan Relief Act to prevent the insolvency of struggling pension plans and protect working families’ financial security.

This is all before you consider the many ways the Biden Administration is lowering costs for working families, from cutting prescription drug costs (finally!); ending junk fees on airline, hotel and concert tickets; getting medical care to veterans and survivors (PACT) and increasing access and affordability to child care and long-term care. Plus, he cancelled $116 billion in student loan debt for 3.4 million Americans despite Republican court challenges.

“One of the features of [the tight labor market and workers having more power] is that unions also have more power to make demands at the bargaining table,” Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su told Yahoo Finance.”That is not accidental. This is very much a part of when you have a president who is saying that we want an economy where workers get their fair share.”

President Biden, in his Labor Day Proclamation, declared: “May we continue working to restore the American Dream for every person willing to work hard in our nation by embracing what has always been the foundation of our country’s success:  investing in America and American workers.”

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