PHILADELPHIA - President Joe Biden, who often says he's the most pro-union president in history, touted the importance of unions and applauded American workers in building the economy during a Labor Day appearance in Philadelphia on Monday.
The Democratic president spoke about how the economy is recovering from the crippling coronavirus pandemic and about what his administration has done to pay for infrastructure improvements, and he cited the importance of unions in building the middle class.
"This Labor Day we’re celebrating jobs, good-paying jobs, jobs you can raise a family on, union jobs," Biden told the crowd gathered Monday. Instead of standing at the podium, the president held the microphone in his hand and walked around the stage behind signs that read "UNION STRONG."
Labor Day, a holiday honoring workers, comes this year against the backdrop of increasingly emboldened U.S. unions of all kinds and a potential strike by 146,000 United Auto Workers union members. But it also comes as the U.S. has added jobs and more people have begun looking for work, the most since January, news Biden is eager to highlight as he seeks reelection in 2024.
Biden was making his Labor Day speech days after news that America’s employers added 187,000 jobs in August, evidence of a slowing but still-resilient labor market despite the high interest rates the Federal Reserve has imposed.
Friday’s report from the Labor Department also showed that the unemployment rate rose from 3.5% to 3.8%, the highest level since February 2022 though still low by historical standards. But the rate rose for an encouraging reason: 736,000 people began looking for work last month, the most since January, and not all of them found jobs right away. Only people who are actively looking for a job are counted as unemployed.
The president frequently talked about the importance of middle-class workers in the economy, saying that when the middle class does well, "everyone does well."
At the Tri-State Labor Day event in Philadelphia, hundreds of union workers donning their local T-shirts — from the Sheet Metal Workers, United Food and Commercial Workers, Stagehands and others — waited on a warm and muggy morning to see the president speak.
Lenny Nutter, a Philadelphia resident wearing a yellow Laborers International Union shirt, said he attended the event to support Biden, adding that unions have been more active than they used to be, due in part to the president's policies.
"Unions are adding members, and a lot more work has been given to union workers," Nutter said.
Biden has used executive actions to promote worker organizing, has personally cheered unionization efforts at corporate giants like Amazon and has authorized federal funding to aid union members’ pensions. Just last week, the Biden administration proposed a new rule would make 3.6 million more U.S. workers eligible for overtime pay, the most generous such increase in decades.
"Now you’re going to get paid overtime," the president told the crowd.
Biden also has traveled the country, trumpeting how union labor is building bridges and improving train tunnels as part of the bipartisan $1.1 trillion public works package Congress passed in 2021.
"Unions raise standards across the workforce and industries, pushing up wages and strengthening benefits for everyone," Biden said last week. "You’ve heard me say many times: Wall Street didn’t build America. The middle class built America, and unions built the middle class."
The 36th annual Tri-State Labor Day Parade and Family Celebration is hosted by the Philadelphia AFL-CIO, whose website says it comprises more than 100 local labor unions representing more than 150,000 workers.