Rudy Gonzalez, headshot

By Rudy Gonzalez | Secretary-Treasurer

The State of the Union — Featuring Unions!

Much of the U.S. viewing public tuned in on Thursday, March 7, to witness the third and presumably final State of the Union address of President Joe Biden’s term.

The annual address, which traditionally occurs early in the calendar year, has become something of an event. It’s an important political moment for a sitting president, providing him with a relatively controllable, scripted-and-scheduled-in-advance occasion complete with pomp, circumstance, and an exclusive soapbox on which to boast, uninterrupted, about his glorious achievements as head of state. In a presidential election year such as this, the State of the Union also serves as a campaign speech and a rallying opportunity for the president’s party.

The occasion also provides hours of fodder for the media, from cable commentary loudmouths to network news panel discussions to the late-night sketch comedies, talk shows, and “Daily Show”-type spoofs. They all have a field day with the State of the Union address. We regular citizens even tend to chat about it around the proverbial water cooler the morning after. You might call it the Super Bowl of U.S. politics.

Historically, however, the original iterations of this event were far more tempered. Still navigating choppy waters in the wake of independence, the earliest U.S. presidents recognized the need to balance executive authority with a Congress and a country still leery of the federal government in general and the accumulation of power into one man’s hands in particular. The crown had just been sent packing, after all. The last thing these new Americans wanted to see was another king rise before them — and certainly not a home-grown one.

Perhaps that’s why during most of the first century of our country’s history, presidents opted to send a State of the Union report to Congress in writing and without a speech. The State of the Union’s purpose and method of delivery has evolved since then into a major TV event with 24-hour press coverage and official responses from the minority party (and unofficial responses in the form of heckles from the peanut gallery). But the national audience has also come to expect that amid all the showboating, the president will be speaking directly to us, the American people.

And boy, did Biden speak to us on March 7 — all 32 million of us who tuned in to the address. In fact, Biden even spoke directly to union members, calling out our priorities head-on in his address. The president spoke with optimism and rooted for the American worker. It was refreshing to hear.

And as hard as it might be to believe, we’ve never really gotten the invite to this party before — not until March 7. The Bidens brought as one of their guests of honor a 34-year member of Iron Workers Local 44 from Cincinnati named Saria Gwin-Maye. She became the very first building trades unionist to ever sit with the presidential family at a State of the Union address.

Biden touted his successful legislative record, bipartisan whenever possible, but also expressed his willingness to go it alone when Republicans choose party over policy and vindictive obstructionism over the good of the country. Biden reminded us of the truly exceptional laws he got passed, with or without cooperation from the GOP, including the American Rescue Plan, the CHIPS and Science Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, the Inflation Reduction Act, and more well-paying-union-job-creating legislation.

Maybe North America’s Building Trades Union (NABTU) President Sean McGarvey said it best when he said, “NABTU applauds President Biden’s blue-collar blueprint to rebuild America. As a result of his steadfast commitment to uplift working families in forward-focused investments, our economy, national security, public health and safety, and America’s middle class will be stronger, with more meaningful opportunities for dignity and shared prosperity for all.”

Above all, the address reminded me that Biden possesses the temperament, the experience, and the values to get the job done on a daily basis. We all know being president is much more than speeches and press conferences, tweets and rallies. It’s about the day-to-day work getting things done for the country. Many national and international building trades affiliates agree and have thrown their support behind this administration, including: IBEW, BAC, IUEC, IUPAT, LIUNA, SMART, UA, IUOE, and the Ironworkers.

Labor Solidarity on Affordable Housing

The Bay Area Housing Finance Authority Oversight Committee of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission held a meeting on Wednesday, March 13, to hear an update from staff and the public on what could be a $10 billion initiative to fund housing in the region.

Officers of Bay Area building trades and central labor councils spoke with one voice to say that we strongly support a regional bond in November to fund truly affordable housing and that labor will play a key role in the campaign. More importantly, the production and safe construction of housing will require a skilled workforce and pipeline of apprentices to make it real.

AFL-CIO unions want to see a single unifying labor standard that is enforceable and proven. After all, if we want to chip away at the affordability crisis, paying family-sustaining wages with healthcare and retirement security is key.

Keep it here — more on this to come.

Organized Labor

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