Unions praise Biden infrastructure plan, including Pro Act; McConnell pans it
The collapsed 35W bridge in Minneapolis. The Biden plan would replace or repair thousands of bridges in America. | Morry Gash/AP

WASHINGTON—As might be expected, union leaders praised and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., panned Democratic President Joe Biden’s 10-year $2 trillion infrastructure plan, released March 31. And Teamsters President Jim Hoffa said, it includes comprehensive pro-worker labor law reform.

But McConnell also claimed it had another pro-worker provision Biden didn’t mention: Repeal of state right-to-work laws. The plan, however, promotes project labor agreements for federally funded construction, Biden said, without using those specific words.

Hoffa, in praising Biden’s plan, says it not only includes the PLAs and provisions to put millions of people to work fixing roads, bridges and airports—which Teamsters use—but that it also includes the Protect The Right To Organize (Pro) Act.

That measure, the most-pro-worker labor law reform since the original National Labor Relations Act, would, among other provisions, outlaw the right-to-work laws.

“My American Jobs Plan will put hundreds of thousands of people to work–line workers, electricians and laborers–laying thousands of miles of transmission line, building a modern, resilient, and fully clean grid, and capping hundreds of thousands of, literally, orphan oil and gas wells that need to be cleaned up because they’re abandoned,” Biden said.

And, as forecast by speakers about working women the same day, Biden would also invest in infrastructure that goes beyond traditional roads, bridges, airports, subways and buses to expand broadband to rural areas, and undertake $100 billion for green retrofitting of schools, plus construction of energy-efficient housing and $400 billion for new infrastructure for child care and elder care.

And the jobs it creates would be “paying the same exact rate that a union man or woman would get having dug that well in the first place,” Biden said at the Carpenters Training Center in Pittsburgh.

Biden’s Labor Secretary, Marty Walsh (center), noted that the plan provides equity in jobs and wages for previously marginalized communities, making it a massive undertaking long sought by the labor movement and by the movements for social justice. | Michael Dwyer/AP

“We’re at a crossroads,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka responded in a statement. “Working people are facing a crisis beyond anything since the Great Depression. Overcoming this challenge is going to require unprecedented federal investment in working people and in our communities.” Other union leaders calculated Biden’s plan would create 2.3 million jobs over the decade.

“That means passing an infrastructure package to tackle the climate injustice, racial injustice and economic injustice facing working families while creating a new generation of good-paying union jobs.

“President Biden understands we need to go big, and this announcement brings us one step closer to delivering the aggressive changes we need to rebuild our country. However, investment alone won’t be enough. We have to make sure that as we rebuild our nation’s infrastructure, we’re creating a new generation of good-paying union jobs.

“That means changing the rules of our economy, starting by strengthening working people’s freedom to organize by passing the Pro Act.”

“At its core, the American Jobs Plan is not only commitment to investing in our infrastructure, but also investing in the American people,” Hoffa added.

“Not since Roosevelt’s New Deal has a president undertaken such a comprehensive plan to help set America back on course. This plan creates good-paying jobs now and in the future while taking real action, through the Pro Act, to level the playing field for middle class workers who have been fighting for their right to join a union free from employer intimidation.”

Biden’s plan caught flak from two directions. The GOP and its Chamber of Commerce backers screamed about his proposal to pay for it by raising the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28% and by rolling back the 2017 GOP-Trump tax cuts for the rich. Congressional progressives praised the Biden plan’s direction while arguing it’s too small.

“If we actually want in good faith to make this vision and the commitments that they’ve put down happen we need a more robust investment,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted after an evening town hall in her Bronx district devoted to Biden’s plan, among other issues. “I have really serious concerns that $2.25 trillion over 8 years is not going to get us there. It’s just not enough.”

“While President Biden’s proposal is a welcome first step”—including its “bold investments in good-paying union jobs”—”more must be done to improve on this initial framework to meet the challenges we face. We are still emerging from a deadly pandemic that has killed half a million Americans and plunged millions more into poverty, joblessness, and food insecurity. It is imperative we act on a once-in-a-generation opportunity,” said Progressive Caucus Chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.

She noted that on the campaign trail last year, Biden proposed the same $2 trillion figure, but over four years, not ten.

What Ocasio-Cortez and Jayapal didn’t realize, because Biden didn’t announce it, is there will be a second installment soon. Biden Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre disclosed that to reporters in the plane on the way there.

“I think this is part one—right?—of the plan. As we’ve mentioned, there’s going to be a second plan coming up in the next couple of weeks that the president will talk about. And so this is the beginning of the process,” she said.

Similar flak came in a news analysis in the New York Times, which missed the point that the plan would create 2.3 million new jobs, many of them union jobs, in a nation still mired in the coronavirus-caused economic depression. And, Biden said, they would be jobs at union-rate wages. Union leaders declared they wouldn’t just be union-rate, but unionized.

“My American Jobs Plan will put hundreds of thousands of people to work—line workers, electricians and laborers—laying thousands of miles of transmission line, building a modern, resilient, and fully clean grid, and capping hundreds of thousands of, literally, orphan oil and gas wells that need to be cleaned up because they’re abandoned,” Biden said.

And the jobs it creates would be “paying the same exact rate that a union man or woman would get having dug that well in the first place,” Biden said.

Other union leaders emphasized specific aspects of Biden’s plan.

Biden’s plan “has the potential to be the most significant jobs-creating investment ever in our nation. Our nation’s infrastructure needs have been languishing for far too long and… renaissance is now within reach,” said Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan. Biden’s plan “will restore our economy and create hundreds of thousands of good union jobs. The proposal recognizes our infrastructure needs are vast and will only continue to grow without decisive action.

“More than 40% of our roadways are in poor or mediocre condition and Americans make 178 million trips daily across structurally deficient bridges. There is a water main break every two minutes. Our infrastructure deficiencies are a threat to our economy and our safety.”

This Tsukuba express train in Tokyo, Japan stands in sharp contrast to the dilapidated trains Amtrak is running in the U.S. | Creative Commons

Amalgamated Transit Union President John Costa noted Biden proposed $174 billion to upgrade buses and subways, featuring mass electrification of city bus fleets and of 20% of school buses, too. McConnell criticized the electrification, too, in keeping with the GOP’s opposition to ending carbon emissions which cause global warming.

“Public transit for all will play a critical role in keeping our communities and economies moving as it has throughout this crisis” due to the coronavirus pandemic, Costa added. Biden’s $1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan provided a boost for struggling transit systems” but “This much-needed funding to modernize and improve our nation’s transportation systems and infrastructure is long overdue.”

Biden “aims to create millions of jobs for construction workers across America,” said North America’s Building Trades President Sean McGarvey. He called it a “bold vision that is broad in scope, robust in funding, and meets the infrastructure challenges that have plagued our nation for decades.

“With this level of investment, it will further enable NABTU to train women, communities of color, veterans, and the formerly incarcerated for construction careers through pre-apprenticeship and registered apprenticeship training programs.

“However, none of this would be possible without the Biden-Harris administration’s already strong commitment for labor standards on any infrastructure project receiving federal financial support, including ones in the clean energy industry.”

Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry and Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten also lauded the plan, with Henry singling out how it would benefit working women of color—a development she declared is a first.

Biden’s plan is “a game-changer for tackling racial and economic inequality,” said Henry. “In addition to creating millions of new green jobs, President Biden proposed a $400 billion investment in care, which would transform the lives of not just individual families but entire communities. Encouraging the ability of home care workers in every state to join together in a union will turn poverty jobs into living wage jobs with secure benefits. A jobs program has never been focused on an industry that is primarily composed of women of color.”

Biden’s plan moves the country “from rescue” via his $1.9 trillion economic aid bill “to recovery,” said Weingarten. “It’s the actual fuel to jump-start our economic engine and help create a better life for our families and our communities.

“Anyone who has had an asthma attack in school because of mold or poor ventilation or couldn’t drink water in a school water fountain because of lead in the piping; anyone who has struggled because of poor transportation access, crumbling roads, the lack of affordable housing or high-speed internet, or the lack of needed home health care to take care of a dad or mom in their dying days knows the importance of the measures in this infrastructure package.”

“This plan is what building back better looks like: 21st-century infrastructure,” said Biden’s Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, a Laborers Local 223 member and former Boston Building Trades Council president.

Biden includes “rail, roads, bridges and broadband, clean energy and drinking water for healthy communities, expanded job training and apprenticeships, so workers can take control of their futures, research and development to grow good manufacturing jobs, investment in the essential care professions our families and communities depend on; and equity for historically marginalized communities, so nobody gets left out,” Walsh added.

“As a former construction worker, I know a good job can change your life. As a former mayor, I know that these investments will transform struggling communities and grow local economies.”


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.