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‘Unions move our nation forward,’ Vice President Kamala Harris tells workers in South Philly

Her visit came during a critical time for the White House and its economic agenda, as historic levels of inflation and high gas prices threaten the post-pandemic recovery.

Standing in front of dozens of laborers in bright T-shirts bearing their locals, Vice President Kamala Harris told a South Philadelphia crowd Tuesday that economic prosperity for blue-collar workers depends on the strength of unions, which she said “move our nation forward.”

Harris and a handful of local elected officials rallied several hundred supporters in a parking lot along the Delaware River waterfront — the seal of the Sheet Metal Workers Local 19 behind her. It was the latest stop on a tour Harris and Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh have undertaken to meet with labor leaders across the country, from Google contractors in Pittsburgh to plumbers in the Midwest.

During a 15-minute speech, Harris said she and President Joe Biden are “determined to lead the most pro-union administration in America’s history.”

“Philadelphia, for myself, for President Biden, and I know for so many of you, this is what it all comes down to: dignity, and dignity of work,” she said. “The president and I will always stand with you … and our administration will do everything in our power to ensure the workers of our nation can succeed and thrive.”

The vice president touted the work of the White House Labor Task Force, which she chairs alongside Walsh, a former union leader and ex-mayor of Boston. The group in February drafted a report that included dozens of recommendations to make it easier for workers to organize and bargain collectively. That report included a call for about a dozen agencies to prioritize federal grants that create union jobs.

Harris also promoted the $1 trillion federal infrastructure spending law that passed last year — one of the most significant investments in infrastructure in decades — saying it would create thousands of jobs for union workers like carpenters and plumbers.

And she announced a new program by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration aimed at protecting workers in dozens of high-risk industries from heat-related injuries, by allowing inspectors to proactively examine workplaces for such hazards.

The vice president’s visit to Philadelphia came during a critical time for the White House and its economic agenda, as the Biden administration tries to tout the benefits of Democratic policies for the middle class — but as the highest inflation rate in years and high gas prices threaten the post-pandemic recovery. On Tuesday morning, a new government report showed consumer prices were 8.5% higher in March than they were at the same time last year, an inflation rate that marked a 40-year high.

At the same time, Democrats across the country are trying to stem an exodus from the party by blue-collar workers ahead of the midterm elections, when the party is expected to struggle to defend its narrow majorities in Congress.

Fellow Democrats who appeared alongside Harris on Tuesday described the administration as one that’s prioritizing working people, with Walsh contending in his thick Boston accent that “she really, truly does care.”

“This administration is not afraid to say the word union,’” Walsh said. “It’s not afraid to say the words collective bargaining and talk about the importance of collective bargaining, about workers’ rights, about health and safety protections, those things that you fight for, that you work for every single day.”

The visit also came as labor leaders across the country are seeing growing momentum at companies that have been known to quash organizing attempts. Staten Island Amazon workers voted to form a union this month, as did Starbucks employees at the company’s flagship shop in Manhattan.

“There’s a union at Amazon now. Anything is possible,” said Liz Shuler, president of the AFL-CIO. “Every day, more people are seeing the power of unions.”

One local union member, William Griffin, introduced the vice president Tuesday after brief remarks by Mayor Jim Kenney, Gov. Tom Wolf, and several members of Congress.

The West Philadelphia native, 28, who’s training as an apprentice in laying sheet metal, said he was proud to introduce the nation’s second-in-command. “I feel like there’s nothing I can’t accomplish since joining the organization,” Griffin said.

Harris took the stage, gestured toward Griffin, and told him: “You represent the future of America’s labor movement.”

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