Biden: 'Unions Are the Reason We Have the Best Workers in the World'

Vice President Joe Biden headlined a diverse group of leaders who spoke at the Career and Technical Education (CTE) Workforce Development Summit yesterday, an event sponsored by the AFL-CIO and AFT. Biden was joined by Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez and numerous labor, business and community leaders who spoke to a packed house.

Biden said it was important for workers and employers to work together to promote the middle class:

These partnerships provide a seamless transition so folks can go from a classroom to a job, and from job to job within the industry they’re in. Unions have been doing this their entire existence—their entire existence. The IBEW worker working on a high-tension wire, the UAW worker on the assembly line, the AFT teacher in the classroom learning how to organize—organized labor has been responsible for the United States becoming the greatest economic power in the 20th century and will remain so in the 21st century.

The vice president also spoke to the role that unions play in educating the workforce:

Unions for the last hundreds of years have been lighting a fire every day. Unions have been doing this their entire existence....Organized labor has been responsible for the United States becoming the greatest economic power in the 20th century and will remain so in the 21st century. Unions are the reason we have the best workers in the world...and we do, by the way. You've all helped build the middle class and we've got a job of rebuilding it....The one thing I've learned about the middle class: When the middle class does well, the wealthy get wealthier and the poor have a way up. Sounds corny, but that's the American way and we've got to get back to it.

Labor Secretary Perez said the government played a role in working with businesses, the education system and unions in preparing workers:

We're building a skills ecosystem, a skills superhighway with many on-ramps and off-ramps.

AFT President Randi Weingarten talked about the importance of the summit:

CTE has the promise and potential to help equip a new generation of workers with the skills and knowledge needed for the jobs of today and tomorrow and to forge a new path to college and life. It’s a way for our high schools, community colleges and other higher education institutions and businesses to coordinate and align so they can create and sustain good, middle-class jobs.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka explained the importance of improving training and learning for workers:

Workforce development won’t be a cure-all, but it is a necessary ingredient. What we need is a full, comprehensive system for lifelong learning. I’m talking about everything, from high school programs to community colleges to apprenticeship programs to on-the-job learning. We all benefit when workers develop transferable skills, so we can move among employers if we want and grow as professionals throughout our working lives.

Elizabeth Shuler, the secretary-treasurer of the AFL-CIO, said that workforce development is a fundamental part of America's infrastructure:

It’s as basic to our economy and our communities as building roads and bridges. In fact, workforce development is a bridge—a bridge to our future, to the workers, jobs and technology of tomorrow, to our success as individuals and industries and to our competitiveness as a nation.

Biden was introduced by Alexis Smith, a graduate of Toledo Technology Academy who now studies biomedical engineering at the University of Toledo. Smith said:

My experience at Toledo Tech opened up the doors of opportunity for me to delve into my passion. We are Exhibit ‘A’ for the power of CTE to engage us in our studies, to help us secure a bright future and to have fun at the same time.

Numerous business leaders also participated in the summit, including Snap-On Inc. Chairman and CEO Nicholas Pinchuk who said: "We are in a global competition for jobs. The single best [way] is CTE. We need to outskill the competition.”