Vice President Joe Biden speaks in Miami, Florida about workers rights and uplifting the middle class. (Photo: Charlotte Southern / STR)
Vice President Joe Biden told a group of labor leaders Thursday at Miami Beach's Fontainebleau Resort that he and the president are committed to helping U.S. workers and the middle class.
"We will judge the success or failure of our administration based on whether or not the standard of living of the middle class has increased," Biden said to the AFL-CIO Executive Committee plus about a hundred other labor supporters. "Neither one of us believes it can get better without you getting stronger."
After Miami Beach, Biden headed to a site just east of Miami International Airport where the Florida Department of Transportation is overseeing construction of a massive $1.7-billion transportation hub known as Miami Intermodal Center or MIC.
And though Biden didn't mention it in his speech, local officials said federal transportation officials pledged $2.1 million in stimulus money toward construction of an inter-city bus facility for Greyhound at the MIC. Randy Isaacs, Greyhound state government affairs representative, said he was told "verbally" by federal officials that the money is coming.
In his speech, Biden said the federal government will provide stimulus money for the purchase of six hybrid buses that Miami-Dade Transit plans to operate in Kendall. Harpal Kapoor, the county transit director, said the money will come from $76 million in federal stimulus transit money for Miami-Dade announced Feb. 20. Each bus costs about $850,000, Kapoor said.
After Biden's speech in front of the sprawling MIC construction site, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez told The Miami Herald he had told Ray LaHood, the U.S. secretary of transportation, that the county wants federal help to build a $1 billion tunnel to the Port of Miami and to construct a $119.5 million segment of an elevated truck highway along Northwest 25th Street from the Palmetto Expressway west to the Doral warehouse district.
A stretch of the roadway known as a "truck viaduct" is already being built from the Palmetto east to MIA's cargo area. LaHood accompanied Biden to the MIC event along with Alvarez, Miami Mayor Manny Diaz and state transportation agency officials, district director Gus Pego and MIC program manager Gary Donn.
Earlier in Miami Beach, Biden received a rousing ovation when he mentioned the Employee Free Choice Act that the Obama administration has proposed and took a swipe at corporate executives.
"It's just not right when the average CEO makes $10,000 more every day than what the average worker makes every year," Biden said.
"We're not asking for anything we don't deserve. We just want to level the playing field again. I have a simple, basic belief: If a union is what you want, a union you're entitled to have."
Persuading Congress to pass the act is one of organized labor's top priorities. The proposed law would require companies to negotiate with a union if a majority of workers sign cards for that purpose. It also would allow for binding arbitration if the two sides were unable to reach an agreement on wages and working conditions. And it would increase the penalties for companies that violate labor laws by, for example, firing or harassing union supporters.
Supporters say the law would make a more level playing field between unions and employers, make it easier for workers to form a union, increase union membership and therefore increase wages. But business groups are fighting the law, saying it would create government intrusion into the private sector and that increased unionization would lead to hundreds of thousands of jobs being eliminated.
Biden spoke for about 45 minutes before taking questions from labor leaders in a conference room at the resort.
The union's executive council meetings are traditionally closed to the press, but "as part of its unprecedented commitment to transparency, Vice President Biden's office asked that a change to the policy be made so that a pool of print reporters would be allowed to cover the speech," spokeswoman Elizabeth Alexander said.
The Miami Intermodal Center or MIC, which Biden visited Thursday, is a major rental car and transit hub being built just east of MIA to connect all modes of transportation: airlines, rental cars, buses, Metrorail and commuter rail.
The rental car facility now under construction is scheduled to be completed in April 2010, said Ric Katz, the MIC's public affairs manager. The transit hub known as Miami Central Station is scheduled to begin construction next year.
Overall, Miami-Dade expects to get the largest portion of the stimulus package in South Florida - more than $260 million for roads, bridges, transit and transportation projects. Broward's share is expected to be about $70 million.
Florida expects to receive about $1.3 billion in stimulus money for transportation projects.
On Friday morning, Biden plans to visit the Miami Police Department, where he will be joined once again by Mayor Diaz and Miami Police Chief John F. Timoney.
The stimulus money includes allocations of more than $4 billion for state and local law enforcement and other criminal and juvenile justice services.
Miami Herald staff writer Scott Andron contributed to this report.