OPINION: The Biden budget



Washington – President Joe Biden released his detailed 1,000-plus page budget book on May 28. It has a lot for workers, and there are some things it doesn’t have.

The budget, being a spending blueprint, which lawmakers are free to accept, reject, amend or ignore, doesn’t have some obvious pro-worker legislative proposals. They’re not money-oriented, or at least not federal money-oriented.

But economic assumptions about those proposals run through Biden’s budget.

The big one might be labeled “a rising tide lifts all boats, especially people in union boats.” While the budget doesn’t come right out and declare “Pass the PRO Act!” it has frequent references to higher-paying union jobs, especially in transportation and infrastructure.

That would elate building trades workers, except for the fact that most of those new construction jobs, as well as all new high-paying factory jobs Biden envisions, are in “green” product plants. Example: The two electric vehicle battery plants GM is now building in Spring Hill, Tenn., and Lordstown, Ohio. The biggest Detroit 3 automaker is welcoming the auto workers in to organize those 2,300 workers, who won’t toil until 2022 and 2023.

When it comes to factories, that’s what Biden means by declaring “Build back better!”

But building trades leaders have traditionally been wary of “green” projects. That economic sector is only five percent unionized, while traditional construction is more than triple that.

And it is traditional construction jobs, especially in power plants, plus mining jobs, that will suffer, they fear, when the U.S. shifts to a “green” economy.

But none of this is in Biden’s budget. It’s just built into the assumptions.

Similarly, Biden’s military budget has a very small increase, barely keeping up with inflation. And the separate Overseas Contingency account, an extra $80 billion or so used to fund U.S. troops in Afghanistan, is zeroed out, because Biden plans to bring the troops home.

What does that have to do with workers? Two answers. One is that a lot of military spending goes to people building tanks and ships and guns and planes — and the Machinists, the Steelworkers and other unionists are a big share of the workers who toil at those jobs.

Cut military spending and you risk union jobs at Electric Boat in Connecticut, the Newport News Shipyard in Virginia and the Bath Iron Works in Maine, among others. Cut on-base auxiliary jobs at PXs and commissaries around the nation and unionists suffer, too.

The flip side is that if you re-channel the military money to domestic needs — schools, home construction and retrofitting and health care, to name three — you potentially create more union jobs, for teachers and staff (AFT and NEA), nurses (National Nurses United) and building trades workers.

And progressive lawmakers are arguing for that dollar shift from the military to civilians.

You see the dilemma: If you shift money around as Biden wants, some workers — even some union workers — will lose. Others will win.

Which means also you need more money for retraining. Thankfully, at least for miners and oil workers who could lose their jobs to solar, wind and other green energy, Biden wants $100 million for that. It’s small, in the context of a $6 trillion budget, but it’s a start.

Still, that gives you the idea: The Biden budget, like any budget, is about choices and priorities. And while most of those choices will help most unionists, and most workers, some won’t. Biden, and us, will have to deal with that fact.

(Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People’s World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999.)


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