Vice President Joe Biden thanked the United Auto Workers for helping him get his start in the Senate at the 2014 UAW National Community Action Program (CAP) Conference on Wednesday.
“You were the largest union in my state. We had two of the largest plants outside of Detroit, General Motors plant and Chrysler plant. And when everything was down, I was losing 59, 56 to 17 on Labor Day, on Labor Day of that year, with Nixon at the top of the ticket,” he said. “You guys endorsed me. And I mean this sincerely, everything changed. Then the steel workers jumped in and all the labor. But you led the way. You were the ones that took a bet on me. You've never left me and I've never left you.”
The Obama administration has been very good to the UAW: GM and Chrysler received more than $70 billion from taxpayers to keep them afloat. The bailout staved off mass layoffs of union members, as well as major renegotiations of union contracts, leading President Barack Obama to claim he saved Detroit.
“We get a lot of credit, Barack and me, and I get a lot of credit because everybody knows my view about automobiles and automobile manufacturing,” he said. “Remember we said we're taking a bet on American auto workers. We're betting our presidency on it, we're betting the economy on it.”
Taxpayers lost about $12 billion on the deal.
Democratic interests and candidates received $15 million from the union, including nearly $150,000 for Obama’s reelection campaign, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Biden also used the occasion to praise another of the Democratic Party’s largest fundraisers: trial lawyers.
“You may not like them. I know everybody calls them bottom feeders and all this other stuff,” Biden said. “The truth is, the other entity out there that's keeping this thing a little bit in check, besides organized labor, are trial lawyers. Trial lawyers are the only guys taking on these major, major corporations.”
Biden focused the majority of his speech on ginning up support for the economic agenda Obama laid out in his January State of the Union address. He thanked the union for supporting the 40 percent minimum wage hike proposed by Sen. Tom Harkin (D., Iowa).
“The minimum wage never has been an issue with you all. You've always made more than minimum wage. But you go out there and you throw yourself in front of a bus to make sure people get a minimum wage,” he said.
The minimum wage plays a big role in the lives of union members. Many union contracts tie base pay for members to the minimum wage, meaning the $10.10 wage will boost the wages of union members.
“Some union contracts are triggered by raising minimum wage,” Center for Union Facts managing director J. Justin Wilson told the Washington Free Beacon last year. “The workers are going to get an automatic wage hike in addition to what they would already get.”
Biden pledged his support in the battle against new right to work laws and labor reforms that are being debated in Missouri and Pennsylvania. He said the administration would repay union support for its agenda by fighting for collective bargaining before the Supreme Court.
“Look what's happening now in the industrial states we were coming up—Ohio, Pennsylvania, Missouri. Look at Harris v. Quinn, the case before the Supreme Court. There's a hell of a lot at stake,” he said. “The president and I, through the solicitor general, came in on the side of the unions on the oral arguments and finally had an amicus brief, because we know that collective bargaining is the bedrock of our economy.”
Biden closed by asking the UAW to continue its political activism and to maintain its support for the president’s agenda.
“The American people, the United Auto Workers have always, always, always ended up choosing the right way in the end,” he said. “You led the way before. I'm counting on you leading the way again.”