In a very visible nod to public sector unions, Vice President Joe Biden lauded union workers using last week’s shootings in Aurora, Colo., to emphasize the importance of their role and draw a distinction between the administration’s support and that of Republicans.
“They look at your ranks and they see an easy place to cut budgets to accommodate their priorities,” Biden told unionized firefighters on Wednesday. “Not just you, but cops, public workers generally. Don’t take my word for it. Just listen to Gov. [Mitt] Romney … I just don’t think he gets you.”
Biden spoke to about 3,500 firefighters from around the country who gathered in Philadelphia for the International Association of Fire Fighters’ convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Despite Biden’s support, the speech drew the ire of local union officials, who are locked in a showdown with Mayor Michael Nutter over a new contract.
“I’m disappointed that the vice president didn’t say, ‘Yo, Mr. Mayor, honor the agreement,’” said Bill Gault, president of International Association of Fire Fighters’ Local 22.
Biden avoided discussing the issues between Local 22 and the administration, though earlier this week Gault said that hoped both Biden and President Barack Obama would “personally” ask Nutter to abide by the most recent arbitration award.
Biden stuck to the campaign script.
His speech, a stump speech for the Obama campaign, focused on the importance of unions and the American middle class. But, he also used the shootings in Aurora to make his point. Twelve people were killed after a gunman went on a rampage at a theater there. But, Biden said 58 survivors owed their lives to rescue workers — like the union members in his audience.
“They’re alive, those 58 people, because of you,” he said. “You arrived on the scene in a timely way, you got them the immediate help … You were there ready to do whatever was needed if the worst happened.”
With Romney as president public unions would be in danger, said Biden.
“He said, I quote, ‘guaranteeing the government will keep its fire, police and teachers intact is not an effective way to get the economy rolling again,’” the vice president said.
Local 22 is feuding with Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration over implementation of a new firefighters’ contract. The mayor and firefighters have been at odds for several years over the contract. One arbitration award was set aside, and last week firefighters sued the city in an effort to enforce the latest award.
Local union leaders hoped to use this week’s convention to pressure the administration to act. Nutter has until Aug. 2 to decide whether to accept the award or appeal it. Several thousand firefighters from across the nation marched on City Hall Thursday in support of Local 22.
Despite Gault’s disappointment, Biden said he felt the Democratic Party was more in tune with union workers and the middle class.
“They act like you’re the community’s problem, as if you’re not part of the community, as if you’re from some other place,” he said. “I think I know you guys.”