In Biden, Labor Leaders See a President Who ‘Is Not Playing’


During the Democratic primary campaign, labor rights became one area in which Biden, a relative centrist, was basically aligned with his left-wing challengers, like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Biden has long cast himself as a defender of labor rights, and union leaders are confident that he will make a meaningful break from presidents past. “That’s his history,” Trumka said. “Forty-some years I’ve known him, that’s how he’s been every one of those years.”

Mary Kay Henry, the president of the Service Employees International Union, agreed. “President Biden has been crystal clear about his belief that every worker has the right to join a union, from the earliest days of his campaign as president, and also as vice president, and as a senator before that,” she said.

Today, the environment for a pro-labor push appears more favorable than at any point in recent memory. A Gallup survey last year found that 65 percent of Americans expressed general approval of unions, the highest level of support in 17 years and far better than the 48 percent who expressed approval in 2009 amid the Great Recession.

Last year, the Business Roundtable, a group of top executives, released a mission statement that sought to redefine “the purpose of a corporation,” stipulating that it must “deliver value to all” of a company’s stakeholders, and not just investors, “for the future success of our companies, our communities and our country.”

But at the same time, President Donald Trump’s administration rolled back many worker protections and loosened enforcement of existing regulations through the National Labor Relations Board. Under Trump, that agency’s lead lawyer, Peter Robb, had made it harder for private-sector workers to unionize, in industries including fast food and health care. Biden sacked Robb on Day 1 of his presidency.

“President Biden sent a very strong and aggressive signal that he stands with workers when he fired Peter Robb,” Henry said. “This president is not playing.”

The change of tone has taken hold throughout the makeup of the Biden administration, Reich said, including in the Treasury Department. “Wall Street really did have, in both the Obama and also Clinton administrations, its own ambassador in the Treasury secretary, or in other high-level economic advisers,” he said. “That’s not the case this time around.”


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