Biden Touts Green Jobs, Economic Recovery To Labor-Environmental Alliance

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Biden Touts Green Jobs, Economic Recovery To Labor-Environmental Alliance

Vice President Joseph Biden (D) touted the Obama administration’s clean and green jobs initiatives and the U.S. economic recovery to a combined crowd of unionists and environmentalists. He got a positive reception – at least after the start.

As the vice president entered the large D.C. hotel meeting room where more than 900 delegates to the Good Jobs Green Jobs conference in D.C. gathered on April 13, he was greeted by an organized chant by some delegates: “No fast track! No fast track!”

The chanters referred to trade promotion authority, called fast track, to give a president of any party the OK to negotiate trade deals in secret with other nations with no amendments, no changes, and subject only to one later up-or-down vote in each house of Congress.

That’s like bargaining with a firm on the last day before the contract expires and human resources finally offers its version of the contract and demands just a yes-or-no vote with no changes, Steelworkers Vice President Tom Conway said later.  And a “no” means no contract at all.  A bargaining committee bringing that offer back to its union would be ousted, he said.

President Barack Obama (D) and a majority of Congress’ ruling Republicans, backed by corporate interests that would and have benefited from fast-track-authorized trade pacts, are intensively lobbying for fast track.  Fast track would also bar enforceable worker rights from the deals, especially from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact with 11 other Pacific Rim nations, including repressive, low-wage nations such as Vietnam and Brunei.

Bipartisan leaders of congressional committees dealing with trade introduced fast-track legislation this week – and the Good Jobs Green Jobs delegates headed to Capitol Hill for a mass rally on April 15 against it (see separate story). Some first protested at Biden’s speech.

The vice president didn’t mention fast track or trade deals in his address.  Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, who introduced him, did later.  “I’m glad he didn’t mention it,” Gerard said Biden’s trade silence.  His union agrees with Obama on most of the president’s agenda. 

Fast track and USW’s effort, with other unions, to repeal the planned 2018 tax on individuals who get so-called “high value” health care are the exceptions.

“We sent men to Vietnam to fight communism.  Now we (corporations) send jobs to Vietnam” under fast track and the TPP because corporations “say we pay American workers and Chinese workers too damn much,” Gerard told his own legislative-political-Rapid Response conference delegates the next day.  “If not us, then who?” in the fast-track fight.

“It’s a fight we can never give up and a fight we can never stop.  We have great rapport with Obama, but on this we fundamentally disagree.”

Biden spent his time on good jobs, green jobs, increases in U.S. manufacturing jobs, and the labor-supported stimulus law, that helped pull the nation out of the Great Recession.  His points included:

 

  • “Labor and environmentalists knew” more than 20 years ago “that you can have a strong economy and a clean environment.  It’s not either-or.  It’s both.”  Infrastructure, especially retrofitting and reconstruction of roads, airports, pipelines and the electric grid, can be a large part of that, the vice president added.
  • “If I could wave a magic wand, I’d restore organized labor to its position of 40 years ago” when unions represented approximately one-fifth – not 7 percent – of private sector workers “because organized labor built the middle class.”  Biden, known for his strong ties to unions, did not say how he would try to achieve that restoration.
  • North America, “and not Saudi Arabia and not Nigeria” is now the center of world energy production thanks to increases in natural gas extraction and rising shares of wind and solar electricity generation.  “But there’s no reason why we can’t significantly increase production of wind and solar,” he added.

 

One way to do so, Biden said, is to enact permanent federal tax credits for wind and solar energy production, while eliminating the $4.8 billion gas and oil tax credit, as Obama’s budget proposes.  The oil and gas credit was needed in the 1970s to encourage exploration and counter rising worldwide prices, he said.  It’s unneeded now.  “Conditions have changed.”

 

  • The stimulus law included $60 billion-$80 billion in wind and solar energy projects.  “Wind energy supports 50,000 jobs now and will support 650,000 in two and a half decades.  That includes jobs in factories making glass, steel, wind turbines – good jobs for construction workers, steel workers and up and down the supply chain.”
  • Energy efficiency mandates helped make U.S. cars more attractive to buyers while cutting gas consumption.  Average mileage-per-gallon figures have set record highs and cars must meet a 54.5 mpg standard by 2025.  “That’ll save consumers $1.7 trillion yearly at the pump and the U.S. four years’ worth of gasoline consumption.”

 

Left unsaid: The U.S. loans, stock purchases and loan guarantees to two of the Detroit 3 automakers – GM and Chrysler – were a lever for Obama’s higher fuel economy standards.

 

  • Biden touted the administration’s plans to limit carbon emissions from power plants, a mandate that has drawn blasts from the United Mine Workers as well as from Congress’ ruling Republicans.  They both call the plans “a war on coal.”

 

Biden retorted the emissions plans would save health and lives.  “It’s time we limit carbon emissions,” he told the crowd, which favors limits, “just as we did for arsenic and lead.” 

But Biden also admitted limiting carbon emissions would force plant shutdowns and that workers, notably coal miners, would lose their jobs.  Biden, who spent his youth in northeast-tern Pennsylvania anthracite coal country, urged delegates to lobby for Obama-proposed measures for retraining, income aid and other help for those affected workers.

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