Vice president defends bailouts before labor leaders

Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Vice President Joe Biden speaks to a group of workers from Prince, the contractor for the U.S. 27 widening project, and Florida Department of Transportation representatives Monday at a Clermont, Fla., construction site. Biden discussed how Recovery Act projects for transportation and infrastructure are improving communities, easing travel and creating jobs in the Orlando area. (TOM BENITEZ ~ Orlando Sentinel)

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Vice President Joe Biden told AFL-CIO leaders Monday the government bailouts of the banking and auto industries were necessary steps the Obama administration needed to take before it could tackle causes important to organized labor.

Biden told officials of the labor federation representing 11.5 million employees that the bailouts averted an even worse economic collapse and stabilized the economy.

At the top of organized labor's wish list are passage of the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to unionize, and sympathetic appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, which administers laws between unions and workers. Business groups strongly oppose the labor bill, which has stalled without the support of some moderate Democrats.

"Had we not done those unpopular things ... we wouldn't have any shot, any shot at all," Biden said at the winter meeting of the AFL-CIO's executive council.

The Obama administration has invested in the creation of jobs in 21st century industries such as green technology and high-speed rail, and it's up to unions to organize in those fields, Biden said.

"That's a new economy. That's where labor is going to lead. That's where you're going to get to organize," he said.

Earlier in the day, Biden told construction workers outside Orlando that the federal stimulus spending was working.

With piles of broken concrete slabs and asphalt chunks behind him, the vice president told about two dozen road construction workers sitting on large concrete pipes that most economists agree the year-old recovery act has saved or created at least 2 million jobs.

"When you lose 8 million jobs in this Great Recession and you keep it from being 10 [million], that's no solace to the 8 million who don't have a job, man," he said. "We have to make this work. Too many people are in trouble in this country."

Biden, who appeared with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., predicted that stimulus spending will continue to create jobs as the year progresses.

"More shovels are going to be going into the ground this spring and this summer than any time last year," Biden said, adding that in Florida it "means 15,000 guys wearing hard hats and engineers and surveyors, people who are able to make a decent wage and raise a family on, are going to be put to work."

The workers are part of a $20 million project to expand a 3.8-mile stretch of U.S. 27 from four to six lanes.

It will create between 20 and 50 jobs at different stages.

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