Labor leaders meet with Biden to talk infrastructure

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Washington  President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with labor leaders Wednesday to discuss his proposed COVID relief package and investing in infrastructure. 

"Every once in a while as president, you get to invite close friends into the Oval," Biden told reporters, according to pool reports. "A lot of these folks have been my friends for a long, long, long time. As they say in parts of my state, these are the folks that brung me to the dance."

President Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with lawmakers on investments in infrastructure, in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2021, in Washington.

Labor unions contributed more than $1.3 million to Biden in the 2020 campaign cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and he's pledged to be a staunch ally in office.

The group included the heads of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the Ironworkers International Union, North America’s Building Trades Union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and more building trades unions. 

Revamping the nation's infrastructure with significant federal investment is expected to be Biden's second big policy push after Congress tackles the COVID relief proposal. The president also met with members of Congress in person and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg virtually last week to discuss the nationwide need. 

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"We are so far behind the curve," he told pool reporters Wednesday. "We rank like 38th in the world in terms of infrastructure, everything from canals to highways to airports."

Biden promised during his campaign that he would spearhead a "historic investment in infrastructure" to repair roads, build out half a million electric vehicle charging stations, update the U.S. power grid with renewable energy sources and more. 

Republicans in Congress have warned that the tense negotiations over the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package may pose challenges for future negotiations on infrastructure. 

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the economic gains from investing in infrastructure can be up to $2.20 returned for every dollar invested.

Business leaders, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have also called for increased investment in infrastructure. A group of more than 300 organizations sent a letter to Congress Wednesday urging them to make infrastructure a top priority and "repair our crumbling roads, bridges and transit and the current gridlock in our major economic hubs."

Biden and Harris also discussed the COVID relief package with labor leaders. The U.S. House plans to pass the package by the end of the month, but it faces challenges in the narrowly-divided Senate over provisions such as raising the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour. 

"It's not about the money; it's about — in order to do everything from open schools, as we should, to make sure that we're generating income for people who are in real trouble," Biden said of the package Wednesday. "The federal government has to chip in, make sure we get this done."

Twitter: @rbeggin