Joe Biden, former vice president and current Democratic candidate for president, made a fast, busy stop in Duluth last week, anchored by a trip to the Carpenters Training Institute and highlighted by quick stops in Canal Park and at the Duluth firehall.
Biden toured the institute and then made remarks to the crowd, kept small because of coronavirus concerns. Outside, separate groups of people waved signs for Trump or Biden.
Biden and Trump were in northern Minnesota on the same day, highlighting the role the state will play in the election — or so many in the national media seem to think. According to several big-name polls, Biden is up around 9 percent in Minnesota.
During his remarks at the Carpenters building, Biden drew comparisons as he saw them between Duluth and Scranton — towns full of hardworking people who want to help fulfill the promise of America.
“My entire campaign is built on a simple concept: Reward hard work, not wealth,” Biden said. He hastened to add that wealth will not be “penalized,” but he made it clear that households that make more than $400,000 total would see their taxes go up in an effort to get the top percentage of income earners to pay their fair share.
Biden also said essential workers should be paid in a way that acknowledges they’re essential, that the minimum wage should be $15 an hour, and childcare must be more affordable and widely available.
Much of the speech touched on familiar themes, although he did reference the visit. He described how during the tour of the Training Institute, he had been shown plans and blueprints that incorporate environmentally friendly building technologies. “My Buy American/Build American plan calls for retrofitting 4 million buildings in America, creating 4 million jobs for skilled labor, all done with prevailing wage and Union labor. That’s not hyperbole; that’s a fact.”
In delivering what would have been a huge applause line in a pandemic-free campaign in front of a large
crowd, Biden said, “When the government spends taxpayer money, we should spend it to buy American products made by American workers using American supply chains to generate American growth and opportunity.”
This included touting jobs that would be created by updating infrastructure (such as investing $2 trillion in roads and bridges), installing broadband networks to serve every home, and updating buildings to take advantage of new energy efficiencies.
Biden also offered a four-point plan for fighting for workers and Unions: Protecting prevailing wage, prioritizing Project Labor Agreements, protecting apprenticeship standards, and passing the PRO Act. The PRO Act would rework some decades-old labor laws to give workers much more power on the job and boost penalties for employers who try to disrupt collective bargaining efforts.
District 8 Congressman Pete Stauber, a Republican, voted against the PRO Act when it came up earlier this year in the U.S. House.
Several Union leaders met with Biden during the visit. Beth McCuskey, president of the Duluth Central Labor Body, said Biden’s speech “hit the mark” and it was a pleasure to see the former vice president in person. As an aside, she said it was also great to have some time to talk to U.S. Sen. Tina Smith: “She looks you in the eye, and it’s really quality time with her,” she said.
Dan Olson, business manager and FST at Laborers Local 1091, and Joel Smith, district council president, met with Biden at the airport just before the candidate left town. “It was a surprise to me — I thought we were going to a sit-down town-hall type meeting, but each of us were shuttled into a room with him and got to talk with him one-on-one for a few minutes.”
Olson said he brought up the Line 3 and mining issues, both of which are deeply important to his membership. “He knew what he was talking about,” Olson said.
The Laborers had a strong relationship with the Obama administration. Olson said Biden told him the Laborers were one of the only groups that follows up on what they say they’ll do when it comes to working with an administration, and that the visit was comfortable and relaxed. “I had a blast,” Olson said. “It was more like a conversation, just like I was talking to another guy. I was glad to be a part of it.”
Matt Preble, organizer for IBEW Local 242, said he was struck by Biden’s warmth when he had a chance to talk to him. “His mannerisms make you feel like what you’re saying is the most important thing that’s going on right now. It’s powerful.
“He brought up that the IBEW has had his back for a long time,” Preble said; the IBEW endorsed Biden back in February. “Having that opportunity to meet him is such an honor.”
Janet Nelson, AFSCME retiree, said it was exciting to see Biden in Canal Park. She had a chance to talk with him briefly and introduced herself.
“I said, ‘hi, I was one of your national delegates,’ and he said ‘Janet Nelson, thank you,’” Nelson said. She had seen him at political events in the past but hadn’t had a chance to meet him.
“There was great energy in the crowd — there were a couple of hecklers, so we drowned them out,” she said. “Everyone was excited for a chance to see him or even get a picture of him walking by.”
Nelson has been working to access Biden yard signs for those in the area and said that whenever she gets a shipment, “they go like hotcakes.” If you are interested in a yard sign, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.