HARRISBURG, PENN. — Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden traveled to his childhood home state of Pennsylvania on Labor Day to speak with union workers as the presidential campaign heads into the crucial home stretch.
Biden first met with local labor leaders in the backyard of a supporter’s home in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Appearing alongside AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, the leader of the largest federation of U.S. labor unions, via video chat, Biden spoke about trade, coronavirus and the economy as he criticized Trump for “refusing to deal with the problems that affect ordinary people” and called for strengthening unions.
“It’s not enough to praise our essential workers, it’s about time we start paying you. We’re going to empower workers and empower unions,” Biden said. “If I have the honor of becoming your President, I am going to be the strongest labor President you have ever had.”
Biden also pledged that as President he would make sure to sign the PRO Act, which would amend decades-old labor laws in favor of workers. Biden also noted that President Trump had also promised the same during his previous campaign but then reneged on the promise when the time came.
The former Vice President further slammed President Trump’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, saying he put profit over people when making policy decisions.
“President Trump keeps talking about how great his economy is, how great the stock market is. But the only reason he didn't have the guts to take on COVID and threw up the white flag, he was worried if he started talking about saving people’s lives, the stock market may fall,” Biden said.
“If you give me the honor of being your President, you'll never have a better friend or stronger ally in the White House,” Biden later added. “Because if I'm in the Oval Office guess who's gonna be there with me? Unions.”
Biden also addressed the recent report from The Atlantic that claimed President Trump called servicemen who died in war “losers” and “suckers,” delivering what was perhaps his most fiery rebuke of the President’s rhetoric to date.
“When it comes to veterans, (Trump) is downright un-American,” Biden began. “I’ve never said that about a President ever, ever, ever but calling those who served losers and suckers….these are heroes.”
Biden then spoke of his late son Beau Biden, who was an officer in the Army Judge Advocate General's Corps.
“I’ll tell you something, my Beau wasn't a loser or a sucker,” Biden said. “He didn't serve with losers and suckers, he served with heroes. No President has ever talked about our servicemen this way. If that's how you talk about our veterans, you have no business being President of the United States of America.”
Following his address, Biden took questions from several union workers.
Ketha Otis, a vocational rehabilitation technician, asked the former Vice President what he would do to protect public service employees should he be elected to the White House.
“We have to make sure you can stay working, and protected, and we have to pay you fairly. This pandemic has slammed states and cities with rising costs and shrinking tax revenues. And Trump passed the buck, turned his back and stuck states with the bill,” Biden responded in part.
Biden’s campaign also announced three new union endorsements: the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the International Union of Elevator Constructors and the National Federation of Federal Employees, collectively representing hundreds of thousands of union workers nationwide who can be mobilized to support the campaign.
The AFL-CIO endorsed Biden in May.
Ahead of the roundtable, Biden released a series of statements on Twitter where he pledged to strengthen labor unions across the country.
“For years, President Trump and Republicans have waged a war on America's labor unions. It will end on my watch. I'll sign the PRO Act — making it easier for workers to organize and collectively bargain — and be the strongest labor president workers have ever had,” Biden wrote.
Speaking exclusively to local Pennsylvania station Fox 43, Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale said that Trump's National Labor Relations Board "takes away labor rights at every chance they get."
"His board has made ruling after ruling to discourage organizing and allowing for workers to have their voice on the job," Bloomingdale added.
"This year, the choice is pretty clear as to who is for workers and who isn't, who's for the millionaires and billionaires and who's for the working class and the middle class," Bloomingdale said. "Clearly, Joe Biden."
Voters in Pennsylvania can start receiving mail-in ballots as soon as mid-September; a recent roundup of polling averages from Real Clear Politics shows the former vice president leading in the Keystone State, but polls have tightened in recent weeks.
Both candidates are shining a spotlight on Pennsylvania. Trump narrowly beat Hillary Clinton by 44,292 votes in Pennsylvania in 2016, which helped carry him to victory. Before 2016, Pennsylvania voted for Democrats in 6 consecutive presidential contests, starting with Bill Clinton in 1992.
The U.S. economy has been steadily rebounding from its epic collapse in the spring as many businesses have reopened and rehired some laid-off employees. Yet the recovery is far from complete. Only about half the 22 million jobs that vanished in the pandemic have been recovered.
Economic inequalities also appear to have widened, with lower-income and minority workers suffering disproportionately while affluent Americans have lost fewer jobs and even benefited from rising stock and home prices.
Biden and Trump are both set to visit the Flight 93 memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on September 11 to mark the 19th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on New York City, Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.