Joe Biden will consulted with ten top labor leaders at the White House on Wednesday about his $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan and the need to modernize U.S. infrastructure, the White House said.
Labor leaders taking part include Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO federation of labor unions, Sean McGarvey, president of North America’s Building Trades Union, and Lonnie Stephenson, international president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, the White House said.
“They will discuss how to put millions of Americans to work in good-paying union jobs building roads, bridges, transit, electric vehicle charging stations, broadband, schools and child care centers, water infrastructure, and more,” the White House said in a statement.
Biden is pushing hard to win bipartisan support for his relief plan, but Republicans are not endorsing a plan they view as too expensive and likely inflationary.
He also plans to ask Congress to invest heavily in infrastructure amid studies showing close to half of U.S. roads are in poor or mediocre condition and more than a third of U.S. bridges need repair, replacement or significant rehabilitation which the states have neglected.
Candidate Biden called for spending $2 trillion over four years investing in clean-energy infrastructure, boosting electric vehicles and high-speed rail, while beefing up domestic production of key strategic goods, including medical supplies.
To promote the aggressive “revitalization” of U.S. infrastructure, Biden said he was backing Democratic legislation aimed at expanding registered apprenticeships and supposedly creating around 1 million new opportunities for young people in building trades and elsewhere.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and more than 230 trade groups in a letter on Wednesday urged Congress to enact comprehensive infrastructure legislation by July 4, setting an ambitious deadline for Biden’s push which the Dem led Congress is likely to jump on board.
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on Wednesday said it would hold its first hearing on modernizing U.S. transportation infrastructure while addressing climate change on Feb. 24. Names of witnesses were not released.
Biden on Wednesday also announced the nomination of Jennifer Abruzzo, currently a senior executive with the Communications Workers of America union, as general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board.
Abruzzo previously served as deputy general counsel and acting general counsel at the National Labor Relations Board and is currently the special counsel to the Communication Workers of America, the country’s largest communications and media labor union.
It is safe to assume Biden faced demands from the labor leaders fulfill his campaign promise to boost the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from $7.25.
The Democratic president said during a CNN town hall late Tuesday that he was cognizant of the concerns of small business and mentioned minimum wage rates of $12 to $13 an hour, while highlighting evidence that increasing the rate to $15 an hour would help bolster economic growth.
The White House later said that Biden was merely explaining how wages would progress to an end point of $15 an hour. Democrat-backed legislation proposes increasing the federal minimum wage to $9.50 immediately and then in increments until it hits $15 in 2025.
Civil rights leader Reverend William Barber said nearly 60 million U.S. workers earned less than $15 an hour today, including many on the frontlines of the pandemic.
“Democrats need to stay focused and united and get this done. And they don’t need to talk about indexing the minimum wage for some places like the South and Midwest or leaving out tip workers,” Barber said in a statement.
The OMB says a raise in minimum wage would cost 1.4 million jobs which is clearly a “trade-off” Dems are willing to make. This does not take into account the untold number of small businesses that managed to survive the pandemic but would not a wage increase of that magnitude.
Biden is desperately trying to navigate a difficult situation. His Democratic Party is moving to ram the rescue plan through using the reconciliation process without significant Republican support, but some Democrats, including Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, oppose including the minimum wage increase as part of the package.
Let’s hope the wage increase dies along with all of the other pork in this absurdly expensive “relief” bill.
Reuters contributed to this report.