Biden, Harris prepare for traditional Labor Day events

Visits come as movement looks to organize workers in new industries

Then-Vice President Joe Biden walks in the 2015 Allegheny County Labor Day Parade in Pittsburgh, an event he will join again on Monday.  (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Then-Vice President Joe Biden walks in the 2015 Allegheny County Labor Day Parade in Pittsburgh, an event he will join again on Monday. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
Posted September 2, 2022 at 6:30am

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will head to events championing unionized labor at an inflection point for the movement, with workers in new industries and geographies seeking to organize.

Biden, who will be making his third stop in Pennsylvania in a week, will first travel to Milwaukee on Monday for the Milwaukee Area Labor Council's annual Laborfest. He will then travel to Pittsburgh, home to a premier Labor Day parade, which is being held for the first time in three years.

Both states with presidential visits on the Labor Day schedule feature must-watch Senate races, with Wisconsin Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes challenging incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson in a race that's rated Tilt Republican by Inside Elections, while Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman faces Republican Mehmet Oz in the open-seat race in Pennsylvania, which is rated a Toss-up.

The Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council says that in addition to Biden, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler were scheduled to attend events in Pittsburgh.

“We’re so excited to welcome @POTUS to celebrate Labor Day with us. The fact that so many national & int’l leaders choose to come here, year after year, is a testament to the working men and women of organized labor in western PA," Darrin Kelly, the president of the local council, said in a statement shared on Twitter.

Pennsylvania media reported that Fetterman was planning to be in Pittsburgh on Monday, while the Barnes campaign told outlets including the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that Barnes was "excited to participate in Laborfest events throughout Milwaukee, Madison and Racine," but did not specifically reference the Senate candidate's whereabouts during the Biden visit.

Shuler met with reporters Thursday morning in Washington before heading out on the road. Speaking at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor, Shuler spoke about the AFL-CIO's efforts to expand union membership, including among gig workers and employees of such companies as Starbucks and Amazon.

Organizing red states

She cited a recent Gallup Poll that found 71 percent favorability for unions, which is the highest percentage in that survey since 1965. The AFL-CIO's effort to increase union membership in traditionally red states could cause friction with labor's overwhelming tendency to back Democrats with political endorsements and contributions.

"We don't put candidates first, we put workers first. And we look through the lens of working people when we're identifying the issues that we measure those candidates against, and it happens to be that President Biden, who is a Democrat, has been very much a pro-union president," Shuler said. "So, we are proud of the track record that he has had and his administration has had, and that translates down at every level. You know, from city council to Congress and the United States Senate. It's through an issues-based lens."

Shuler emphasized that endorsement decisions are made by union groups at the local level.

"So what I would say to a member that perhaps is unhappy that a Democrat is endorsed is to look at what's underneath that, look beyond the party label," Shuler said. "And look at the issues that we are measuring against. And so is that candidate supporting raises in the minimum wage, is that candidate supporting stronger safety and health protections, OSHA protections? You know, is that candidate actually supportive of collective bargaining and forming unions? And that's usually where we fall off."

Harris is scheduled to travel to Boston to participate in an annual Labor Day breakfast hosted by local labor leaders, which the Boston Globe reported has been a regular event for politicians. The vice president's office said she would be going to Boston "to celebrate the Labor Day holiday and administration’s commitment to working families with labor leaders and advocates."

The Labor Day travels by Biden and Harris come after Thursday's prime-time address by the president on democracy and the "soul of the nation."

Ahead of that speech, Shuler argued that the labor movement is an essential part of democracy.

"We would say that unions are a pillar of a healthy democracy, and we see it around the world that unions have always been sort of bedrock and the foundation of a healthy economy and a healthy society. And so as unions get stronger, our democracy gets stronger," Shuler said. "And so our fundamental role and responsibility is to educate our members and all working people frankly, about how to … balance the scales and the economy by coming together collectively."