Union leaders Shuler, Henry join V.P. Harris in big push for Build Back Better
Liz Shuler, President of the AFL-CIO | AP

WASHINGTON—AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry joined Democratic Vice President Kamala Harris and other progressive leaders in yet another big push to convince a balky Senate to approve Biden’s 10-year Build Back Better plan to repair many holes in the nation’s leaky social safety net.

But whether the drive, which features yet another $10 million in media advertising, on top of $150 million already spent on advertising and town hall meetings over the last months, will work is up in the air. That’s because two dubious Democrats, Arizonan Kyrsten Sinema, and West Virginian Joe Manchin, aren’t on board with the BBB bill.

And without them, there aren’t enough votes in the 50-50 Senate—Democrats and independents versus unanimous Republican “nos” and hate—even to create a tie Harris can break. So Shuler and Henry pledged their members will hit the hustings, but gave no details.

Harris lauded the leaders and their organizations, joined in the “Building Back Better Coalition” for their past work in pushing the Biden-Harris administration’s American Rescue Act, designed to haul the nation out of the economic morass the coronavirus pandemic created, and the bipartisan “hard” infrastructure plan lawmakers passed and Biden signed.

Then she said the work isn’t done, and won’t be until lawmakers, particularly senators, approve Build Back Better.

She also claimed it would improve workers’ and middle-class incomes by cutting child care costs, housing costs, and health care costs, while offering apprenticeships to underserved communities, without offering specifics. “We must lower the cost of living for working people in America,” Biden’s VP declared.

Shuler said the AFL-CIO’s members “will not rest” until the BBB bill passes. They’ll concentrate on the Senate, since the House already approved BBB, technically a “reconciliation bill,” affecting only taxes and spending, on party-line votes.

She also did not go into details at the Nov. 30 zoomed press conference, and question time was limited. A follow-up call seeking nuts-and-bolts details was not returned.

But those taxes, she reminded viewers at the zoomed press conference, include much larger fines on labor law-breakers: $50,000 per offense and $100,000 per violation by repeat offenders.

“It’ll be the biggest boost to workers’ rights because it’ll have real penalties to employers who violate the right to form a union,” Shuler declared. Though she did not say so, those bigger fines will also cover more offenses, including now-legal ones such as “captive audience meetings,” where bosses and union-busters can harangue workers with anti-union diatribes and outright lies. And fines can be levied not just against lower-level managers but also CEOs, board members, and others who condone such outlawry.

Shuler, an Electrical Worker, also gave a shout-out to the new “hard” infrastructure law. It would see union workers, as Biden promised, rebuild the nation’s creaky subways, repave its crumbling roads, expand its antiquated airports and bring broadband to everyone, among other boons, she noted.

Both Shuler and Henry touted how the BBB bill and the infrastructure law would help women workers, with Henry particularly emphasizing benefits for millions of the lowest-paid, workers of color stuck in jobs such as home health care aid, child care, and farm work.

BBB provisions, including requiring a $15 minimum wage for home health care workers, “will go a long way towards recognizing and correcting long-standing disparities” between wages for men and for women, Shuler said.

“Essential workers stood in solidarity to demand Congress pass historic investments in child care, combatting climate change and good union jobs,” said SEIU’s Henry, whose union includes hundreds of thousands of those “essential” but low-paid workers. SEIU has also sent delegations to lobby lawmakers both on Capitol Hill and at home, as have other unions.

“It creates better jobs for women of color who are the backbone of the nation’s workforce,” Henry said.


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 a holy terror when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners. El galardonado periodista Mark Gruenberg es el director de la oficina de People's World en Washington, D.C. También es editor del servicio de noticias sindicales Press Associates Inc. (PAI).