SMART representatives had a front-row seat as Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden spoke Oct. 24 at Bristol Community College in Bristol, Pa.
SMART-TD New Jersey State Legislative Director Ron Sabol and Gregg Weaver, a retired TD Local 838 member and former Local 1390 officer who served as a conductor for many Amtrak rides taken by Biden, were in the front row at the “drive-in” rally that was broadcast live on CNN from the town outside Philadelphia.
“What we heard from Joe Biden today was a concrete plan,” Sabol said. “He has a strategy to address the virus. He has a plan to repair the economy. He has ideas and has a strategy to make things better going forward with a focus on transportation and infrastructure.”
Weaver, who worked the rails on both the passenger and freight side with Conrail for 42 years, said Biden has proven his concern for the working people. Weaver’s son, Blake, a Local 838 member, followed in his father’s path and has been an Amtrak conductor for more than 16 years.
“Everybody wants to talk to him (Joe Biden) after the speech – there were politicians, the big-money donors who have millions,” Weaver said. “He didn’t go after the big donors. He picked a blue-collar working man to come talk to him. He has time for us.”
Biden addressed the COVID pandemic at the outset, mentioning that the country had set a record for daily cases with more than 80,000. The Biden campaign has observed social-distancing and mask protocols at its rallies to avoid the transmission of COVID-19. Most of the attendees participated in the rally from their cars, honking their horns in unison to show appreciation during the speech.
“I will shut down the virus, not the economy,” Biden said. “We can build back better.”
With just days until Election Day, Biden’s speech touched upon a number of union-related issues, such as infrastructure, the gigantic $1.5 trillion corporate tax cuts in late 2017 that remain the signature legislative accomplishment of the current administration and the worsening COVID-19 pandemic.
“This guy’s not on the level. He thinks Wall Street built thus country,” Biden said. “You and I know who built this country … working people built it — the middle class, and unions built the middle class.”
In the April 2018 SMART Transportation Division News reported how Class I rail carriers reaped great benefits from those Republican tax cuts.
Union Pacific (UP) received a $5.8 billion boost. CSX saved $3.6 billion, Norfolk Southern (NS) about $3.48 billion and Kansas City Southern (KCS) $488 million. BNSF, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, reported in its Form 10-K filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that it received a tax benefit of $7.4 billion. Savings for the two Canadian-based Class I railroads also increased, reported at $1.4 billion (U.S.) for Canadian National (CN) and about $406 million (U.S.) for Canadian Pacific.
“Vice President Biden understands where working people are coming from. He’s been there. He knows what kind of struggle the working people of country are going through,” Sabol said. “With Biden, SMART members, labor and the middle class will absolutely have a seat at the table.”
Today, thousands of SMART members and other unionized essential frontline employees still are waiting for additional assistance and protections that are being blocked by the Republican-controlled Senate. For others, enhanced unemployment and sickness benefits that were in effect and a lifeline early in the pandemic have expired.
“How many [parents] a day can look at their kids and say with confidence, ‘everything’s going to be OK’ and mean it?” Biden asked. “Times are hard. Unemployment is way up. Folks are worried about making their next rent or mortgage payment, whether their health care will be ripped away in the middle of a pandemic. Worried about sending their kids to school … worried about not sending them to school.
“They see folks at the top doing much better while the rest are wondering who’s looking out for me. That’s Donald Trump’s presidency.”
Legislation to help union workers such as the HEROES Act and the Moving Forward Act has been stopped by Trump and his Republican allies, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Senate.
Weaver reminds his SMART-TD brothers and sisters that railroaders especially need to keep in mind that their benefits are vulnerable to the whims of Capitol Hill.
A vote for Trump and for his Republican allies is opening the door for workers’ health care, jobs and pensions to be targeted, he said. Children would be off their parents’ health coverage at age 18 instead of being covered until age 26 under the Affordable Care Act.
Weaver said a vote for Democrats would protect union jobs and railroaders. Biden would not be hostile to Amtrak, whereas Trump and Republicans have habitually tried to cut funding for the national passenger rail network.
“Joe Biden has got their backs. He’s not going to make things worse for them,” Weaver said. “There will be a lot less fighting with the Democrats than with the Republicans.”
Biden gave a brief outline of his economic recovery plan — taxes would not be raised on any family making less than $400,000, while making corporations pay their fair share.
“It’s time for working people and the middle class to get tax relief,” Biden said.
He also said his administration would focused on job creation and education.
“We’re going to create millions of union jobs modifying the infrastructure to modernize it, “ he said.
Biden also emphasized in the speech that he is not banning fracking, an accusation leveled by Trump lately on the campaign trail.