Ron Bieber: Congress and Biden should act on an agenda for working people

February 4, 2021 10:12 am

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden at the Flint drive-in rally with former President Barack Obama, Oct. 31, 2020 | Andrew Roth

It was quite a relief to see President Joe Biden assume office and immediately take essential, decisive steps to make our country stronger, kinder and fairer. America has long offered an unfulfilled promise of inclusion and opportunity, and President Biden’s actions to raise standards to protect all workers, correct injustices and recognize the status of folks working in this country will return us to that path.

Now we have a unique opportunity to continue to improve the lives of working folks with a workers first agenda supported by the AFL-CIO, the country’s federation of national and international labor unions that represent millions of working men and women. 

First is empowering workers. Stronger unions are essential to helping our country address and move forward out of each of the crises facing us right now, so we are hopeful that the Biden administration works with Congress to enact the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act and the Public Service Freedom to Negotiate Act. 

Along with rolling back the previous administration’s executive actions that undermined and restricted collective bargaining, these would be the most substantial actions to protect working people taken by an American president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

Of the numerous crises facing our country, COVID-19 is the most deadly and pressing. Biden should guarantee access for all workers to free testing so we can get the virus under control, and free vaccines, so we can eradicate it once and for all. We’re also hopeful he will take executive action to ensure everyone who needs it has enough personal protective equipment, and paid sick days, paid family leave and child care, both right now to get us through this pandemic, and into the future.

We are encouraged by the public statements by congressional leaders and the Biden Administration that they will support significant investments to help our economy recover. Here in Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has done an incredible job keeping the state’s balance sheet in the black, with an unprecedented $3 billion-plus state budget surplus to help fuel our recovery. 

But in order to “build back better,” we need the federal resources to rebuild our infrastructure, which stagnated under the previous administration. Following four years of a fumbled economic recovery and a mismanaged pandemic response, this need is especially dire, but we are hopeful that this will be a bipartisan effort after Republicans demonstrated their willingness to spend federal dollars freely with the previous president in the Oval Office.

The next area of need demonstrates the enormity of the task ahead of us to clean up the mess left behind by Biden’s predecessor, former President Trump, as it could be its own opinion column: The crisis of racial justice and democracy. We are hopeful to see Biden drive an interagency effort to assess and address the structural issues of racial justice in our economy, our health care system, and policing — all of which have only become more evident and more acute as COVID-19 has burned through our country over the last year.

The recent, repeated failed attempts to overturn the result of a free and fair election and overthrow the government installed by that election have also highlighted the emergency that is still facing our democracy even after the inauguration of a new president.

Finally, none of this work will last if we don’t address the economic security crisis by ensuring Social Security and workers’ pensions are adequately funded, addressing the prices of prescription drugs, strengthening the Affordable Care Act by creating a public option, shoring up unemployment insurance in every state, and rebuilding our Postal Service. 

The scale of the challenges facing our country obscures how close we came to the brink. The last president would have gleefully done even more damage to this country if he had remained in office a day longer. Having beaten him in an election and in the incandescent post-election period, we now must mourn the casualties of the last year, resolve to never forget the damage he did, and set about rebuilding our country. 

There’s plenty to do, for the labor movement and for everyone who wants to see a stronger, kinder America. Let’s get to work.

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Ron Bieber
Ron Bieber

Ron Bieber is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO. Ron is a third-generation UAW member, and the son of former UAW President Owen Bieber. Prior to his election as President of the Michigan AFL-CIO, he served as Director of the UAW’s Community Action Program.