President Joe Biden, who signed the nation’s largest infrastructure bill since Dwight Eisenhower, was treated like a rock star as the final speaker during the North America’s Building Trades Union (NABTU) 2022 Legislation Conference held at the Washington Hilton.
Building off the conference theme of, “Our Movement, Our Moment,” the multi-day event returned to a live setting in early April after two years of pandemic-related cancellations. Variations on the theme were repeatedly brought up by speakers: that the building trades have a unique opportunity to build on recent success to make even greater strides under the Biden Administration.
The highlight of the convention was Biden, who delivered an electric speech.
Biden took the stage to close out the NABTU Legislative Conference and opened with comments about the Russian atrocities in Ukraine and subsequent U.S. and allied moves against Vladimir Putin.
He shifted to more of a campaign speech and acknowledged he would not be standing in front of the group as President without the support of union labor.
“We are going to build this economy not from the top down, but from the middle up and out. That’s how you build America,” Biden said. “The reason there is a middle class is because of Unions.”
Biden did not mention the Green New Deal by name, as many aspects of the environmental initiatives could risk building trades work in the energy sector. He did say the nation must make childcare affordable so working women, including female construction workers, can rejoin the labor force.
Building toward his finish, Biden was interrupted more often by cheers and applause. He referenced how the economy has improved since he took office.
“The economy went from being on the mend to being on the move,” Biden said, adding that the Infrastructure Bill will generate work for the building trades for years to come.
In addition to the President and other speakers, the legislative conference also included a day of community service work where some delegates either did cleanup work at the Armed Forces Retirement Home; picked up recycling and trash at the National Park Service Cherry Blossom Festival; or helped at Heritage Island Parks with clean-up and the refurbishment of trails and benches.
Delegates gathered the next day for NABTU President Sean McGarvey’s keynote address to kick-off the traditional two days of speeches. McGarvey started by reminding the delegates that during the pandemic, building trades members stepped up to support not only their own Brothers and Sisters, but the general public as well.
He then shifted to the conference theme and talked about the many accomplishments the Biden/Harris administration has achieved for building trades members and their families, such as multi-employer pension reform, and the expansion and promotion of Project Labor Agreements and the Davis-Bacon Act.
He also was critical of former President Trump’s anti-labor record, as well as the fact he repeatedly pledged to enact infrastructure legislation that never came to fruition.
Biden did get an infrastructure spending plan approved, McGarvey noted.
Liz Schuler, President of the AFL-CIO and an IBEW member, also spoke on Day 1 and echoed the strong support for Biden. She emphasized the importance of recruiting more women and minorities into the trades in order to create more sustainable, life-long careers.
“No one is better at training people than we are; let’s make our Unions look like the communities where the jobs are being created,” Schuler said. “This movement needs to keep adapting and changing with our members.”
Prior to Biden, nine other officials spoke on Day 2, including Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who reminded the crowd that more workers will achieve the American Dream through union labor.