Kamala Harris visits the SEIU convention in Philadelphia to rally support for Biden

As Vice President Kamala Harris took the stage to deliver the keynote address at the annual convention of the Service Employees International Union, the crowd in Philadelphia chanted, “Four more years.”

“We’re going to do this together,” Harris told a gathering of labor leaders on Tuesday, before delivering a speech focusing on President Joe Biden’s administration’s efforts to partner with the powerful union and what’s at stake in the 2024 election.

“We protect the sacred right to organize because we know that when unions are strong, America is strong,” she said.

The visit was Harris’ second trip to the Philadelphia area in May, a sign of the region’s key role in the presidential race. Earlier this month, she visited Montgomery County to attend an event on reproductive rights.

Why is SEIU vital to the Biden campaign?

Harris’ speech came just after SEIU, one of the most diverse labor unions in the country, elected its first black president, April Verrett. Former treasurer-secretary of the organization Verrett was elected president on the first day of the three-day convention.

SEIU represents more than 2 million workers nationwide in many fields, including health care, public service, child care and janitorial work.

In her speech, Harris discussed the time she spent with SEIU members during her visits to the US Oakland and Detroit, describing the physically and emotionally demanding work performed by people working in the service industry.

“Care workers deserve full and fair pay for this work,” she said.

Harris said SEIU “has been on the front lines of every major expansion of the rights of the American people” since its founding.

The union, which endorsed Biden and Harris earlier in the cycle, has pledged to spend $200 million on Biden and other Democrats this year to turn out voters of color in Pennsylvania and other swing states.

“We’re going to mobilize a powerful, multiracial, working-class voting base to win the biggest, you know, election of our time,” Verrett said. “We will talk to them and connect the dots on why this election matters.”

An SEIU spokesman said the union and its partners knocked on more than 169,000 doors in Pennsylvania this election year.

Polls have shown Biden’s support has declined among Black and Latino voters. Verrett attributed this decline in support to a general lack of enthusiasm and frustration with the economy and the cost of goods.

To address this, she said, the administration must speak directly about economic issues and rising costs. Ultimately, however, he believes that workers of color will not support former President Donald Trump, the Republican Party’s presumptive presidential nominee.

“I’m not a pollster, I don’t have a magic wand or a magic 8-ball. But I am a black woman in America and I challenge anyone to convince me that black and brown people will stand up and vote en masse for a known racist, sexist and misogynist,” she said. “Our problem is making sure that these voters actually get to cast their ballots.”

During the vice president’s speech, some of the audience tried to send a message criticizing the administration’s support for Israel’s war in Gaza, singing“Harris, Harris, you can’t hide. We accuse you of genocide,” says the video posted on Instagram.

How did Biden get the word out about jobs?

Biden has consistently included union members in his re-election campaign and as part of his political persona.

In his first political event after announcing his re-election campaign last year, Biden spoke at a rally organized by labor leaders in Philadelphia. He spent three days in Pennsylvania last month campaigning. During a call with union steelworkers in Pittsburgh, Biden announced plans to seek higher tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum.

On Tuesday, Harris said Biden had led “the most pro-union administration in the country’s history,” highlighting efforts to cancel student loan debt, raise the federal minimum wage for contractors and strengthen the Affordable Care Act.

The support of working-class voters was a key element of Biden’s victory in Pennsylvania in 2020. when he cut off Trump’s support in rural and brownfield counties. To win in November, Biden will likely need to hold this coalition together.

Francis Ryan, a Rutgers University professor who studies labor history, noted that strong support from labor groups has long been essential for Democrats looking to win over working-class voters. He said this is especially true in and around Philadelphia.

“In many elections, especially national elections where the outcome is sometimes decided by just a few thousand votes, labor continues to play an important role in securing victories,” he said.

Verrett predicted this would be even more true in 2024, pointing to the growing number of worker strikes across the country.

“Just as working people will use their power on the strike lines, working people will use their power in this election,” she said.

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