Biden to Detroit workers on Labor Day: ‘Don’t give up’

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit – — Vice President Joe Biden on Monday rallied Metro area workers and urged them not to give up on a fight for worker equality.

At a Labor Day rally at the site of the old Tiger Stadium, Biden said Americans need to start asking the right questions about what is going on in the workplace.

Ask why corporate productivity has gone up eight times more than workers’ salaries; why millionaires pay 15 percent in taxes when a GM worker earning $55,000 pays 25 percent; why the tax code is tilted in favor of the wealthy, he said.

“Folks, there is something wrong with this picture,” Biden told hundreds of labor supporters. “We have got to restore the bargain established by unions. ... If we don’t, America is in real trouble.

“We can’t have corporations growing and workers not get a fair share of what they earned.”

Comments by Biden and other political and labor speakers kicked off Detroit’s Labor Day parade that celebrates the working men and women in the traditional labor stronghold.

The event also marks the usual start of intense campaigning for the November general election — the first since since voters defeated organized labor’s 2012 attempt to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution. That political maneuver prompted Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-controlled Legislature to pass the nation’s 24th right-to-work law.

Democrats and Republicans acknowledge Biden’s appearance is a sign the White House is aware the race for retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin’s seat could tilt the balance of power in the U.S. Senate in 2015. U.S. Rep. Gary Peters D-Bloomfield Township, is trying to keep the seat in Democratic hands in a high-profile race against Republican former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land.

Snyder also is in a close re-election battle against Democrat Mark Schauer, a former congressman from Battle Creek.

Biden’s visit — which included two other Detroit stops at a coffeehouse and a historical neighborhood — is his second in the past two months.

“Joe Biden is always welcome in Michigan,” Rick Blocker, president of the Metro Detroit AFL-CIO, said in a statement. “On every critical issue we face — raising the minimum wage, access to health care, the right to organize — he’s been a strong voice for working families.”

Before Biden’s speech kicked off the parade, several spoke, including Mayor Mike Duggan; Schauer; Peters; , U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit; U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak; and retiring U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit.

Bobby Schostak, the chairman of the state Republican Party, in a statement praised “the hardworking Michiganders who are contributing to our success every day.” He said Biden and other Washington politicians should take note of the work Snyder and the Republican leadership in the Legislature have done to spur the state’s comeback.

“Michigan families can’t afford to let the architect of Lost Decade, Mark Schauer, or ‘Pure Washington’ politician Gary Peters undo our progress,” Schostak said. Democratic “policies still hurt our families and businesses. Michigan’s future is bright; we cannot veer off the path and allow Democrats to drag us backwards again.”

Biden said he’s always talking about unions because they built the middle class.

“If the middle class is doing fine, everybody is doing fine,” he said. “The middle class is the reason why America ... has been so stable economically, politically and socially.”

After he addressed workers, Biden visited the Great Lakes Coffee Roasting Co. on Woodward, where he had a cup of coffee while mingling with patrons, including Leeanne Stickle, a Wayne State University graduate student studying social work.

“He said it’s a booming field and worth going into,” said Stickle, who lives near the WSU campus. “It was a really cool experience. He was very personal and nice.”

After leaving the coffee shop, Biden headed to Detroit’s East English Village neighborhood on Kensington for a Labor Day barbecue.

The neighborhood has taken part in a Neighborhood Stabilization Program, which uses the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Hardest Hit funds and allocations from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

About 50 people were at the event hosted by Duggan and held at the home of East English Village Neighborhood Association President William “Bill” Barlage. On the drink menu were local favorites Faygo and Towne Club pop.

Duggan introduced Biden, calling him, “Detroit’s very best friend.” Biden responded by saying he appreciated the opportunity to see a vibrant neighborhood in Detroit.

“Detroit is coming back,” Biden said. “But it’s coming back one neighborhood at a time ... It always happens one neighborhood at a time.”

“I see a different look on people’s faces. There’s a sense of expectation. You can feel it ... It’s about an attitude. When things go well, people pick up their game.”

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Detroit News Staff Writer Chad Livengood contributed.