Jul 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Unions press progressives to back infrastructure

Joe Biden, bowing his head

President Biden pauses while speaking at the start of a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Prominent labor groups are urging progressive House lawmakers to stifle their concerns about the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal and give it their full support.

Why it matters: Even if the package wins enough Republican support in the Senate, Democrats are growing increasingly concerned progressives in the House will sink the deal.

  • Rep. Peter DeFazio, chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, unloaded Tuesday on the bipartisan deal, insisting it included "extraordinary deficiencies."
  • "I’m not taking it,” DeFazio said. "We cannot miss this opportunity to deal with safety issues in a meaningful way."
  • Building trade unions, which saw many of their members support President Trump, view the "hard" infrastructure plan for roads, bridges and other projects as a way to bring union households back in the Democratic fold.

What they are saying: "The message is mostly to progressive activists: Let's take a good deal for the American citizen and American public," said Mark McManus, general president of the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters.

  • "These are good-paying union jobs for my membership," McManus said. "These are good jobs in each one of your districts."
  • “Bipartisanship in this day and age is good for America,” said James Callahan, general president of the International Union of Operating Engineers. "The green retrofit is a win."
  • "We can’t just shut the power grid off now because fossil fuel is dirty," Callahan added.

Between the lines: The union's basic argument to progressives is: Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

  • "We are urging lawmakers to avoid being distracted by those who are focused on what the compromise does not do — as if perfection is the only measure of progress and success,” said Terry O'Sullivan, general president of the Laborers' International Union of North America.

The bottom line: Most of the focus on the bipartisan deal has been in the Senate, but passage in the House isn’t a sure thing.

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