Biden, AFT join rally for early childhood educators and all care workers

President Joe Biden joined AFT President Randi Weingarten and other leaders from labor and the care community on April 9 to celebrate our nation’s caregivers, including early childhood educators, child care providers and home healthcare workers―the heart of our economy and society.

president joe biden at podium in front of crowd
President Joe Biden addresses the care workers’ coalition: “You’re all somebody’s hero. We need you.”

Along with a host of care workers and activists, Weingarten celebrated the progress made for care workers while also calling for legislative action. The “Care Can’t Wait” event at Union Station in Washington, D.C., coincided with two milestones: the second annual White House proclamation of April as Care Workers Recognition Month and the one-year anniversary of Biden’s executive order to strengthen families’ access to care, such as child care and home healthcare, while supporting care workers with higher wages and better benefits like paid leave. Taken together, the dozens of activities under his order add up to the most comprehensive federal action on care work in history.

image of aft president randi weingarten on stage speaking at podium with three adults behind her
AFT President Randi Weingarten: “Care workers make all other work possible.”

“Care workers make all other work possible,” Weingarten said to cheers from the crowd, and went on to make the connection between good public policy, activism and results for caregivers and the families they serve.

“Every single day, [you have] story upon story about the essential nature of care work,” Weingarten said. “We know how essential this work is. You know how essential it is. But in order to actually make this change, we need allies and partners and people in office who have our back and are willing to fight for this.”

These days, the urgent need for care comes up in almost every contract our union bargains. Facts bear this out. The pandemic ripped apart our social safety net and the need for care is growing: 14 million people will need long-term care as the population ages; every eight seconds, someone in the U.S. turns 65; families are struggling to afford care; and Medicaid covers only a fraction of the population needing care. Finally, the U.S. is one of the only countries in the world without a national paid family leave policy, and―for many reasons, including bad pay―we are facing a worker shortage.

The need for affordable care services, paid family and medical leave, and better care jobs has never been clearer. We are in a care crisis.

Thankfully, the Biden administration acknowledges that for too long, caregivers’ hard work has been undervalued. To make people’s lives better, Biden is doing something about it, like increasing Head Start teachers’ wages by more than $10,000 and continuing to fight for paid leave for all.

When Biden took the stage at Union Station, he started by explaining why he had chosen a train station for the rally. For decades, he commuted from Delaware to Washington, D.C., and back every day by train so his extended family could help care for his sons, who had lost their mother and sister in a car crash. Biden said he thinks he understands a little of what caregivers go through.

And he definitely understands the importance of caregiving. “You care workers represent the best of who we are as Americans,” he said. “You’re our heroes. And you represent so many people who do this work out of love and concern. I give you my word: I have your back.

“A job is about a lot more than a paycheck. It’s about your dignity. It’s about respect,” he continued, adding that in the U.S., no one should have to choose between a paycheck and seeing that their loved ones get proper care. “We’ve made progress,” he said. “But if we want the best economy in the world, we have to have the best caregiving economy in the world.”

AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, AFT President Randi Weingarten and AFSCME President Lee Saunders pose for a picture
From left, AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler, AFT President Randi Weingarten and AFSCME President Lee Saunders

The president’s expanded care agenda would deliver universal preschool and affordable child care; a child tax credit; investments in long-term care and family caregiving; and national paid family and medical leave.

Biden said he plans to propose new rules in the coming weeks that would give care workers a bigger share of Medicaid payments. His aim as president is to guarantee affordable child care at under $10 a day per child, he said, which would provide a lot of breathing room for young families.

Last but not least, Biden wants to enact nationwide paid family leave. Currently under the Family and Medical Leave Act, workers are only entitled to unpaid leave to care for themselves or a family member in the case of a serious illness or to welcome a new child. “It’s past time that America caught up with the rest of the world on paid leave,” he said.

Again this year, the president has declared April to be Care Workers Recognition Month. “Every day, care workers dedicate themselves to ensuring the people we love are safe and secure. They watch over our children, assist our parents, and support loved ones with disabilities,” the White House proclamation says.

The document notes that the Biden administration in 2021 invested over $60 billion in the care economy through the American Rescue Plan. That funding helped keep 225,000 child care centers open during the COVID-19 pandemic, ensuring that the 10 million children they served had a place to go. It also provided increased pay and bonuses as well as better benefits for child care workers. Through the expanded earned income tax credit, the Biden administration delivered financial relief to nearly 300,000 child care workers.

In addition, the executive order Biden signed last year increases access to high-quality care and support for caregivers. It directs federal agencies to take more than 50 actions that provide peace of mind for families and dignity for care workers. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services proposes to raise Head Start teachers’ wages by more than $10,000 on average and strengthen Head Start’s ability to recruit and retain staff.

The proclamation expresses gratitude for care workers and recommits the Biden team to ensuring that these “hidden heroes” are rewarded for their extraordinary contributions.

AFT President Randi Weingarten poses for a picture with a group of activists
AFT President Randi Weingarten joins leading activists from across the spectrum of care work.

For its part, the Care Can’t Wait Action coalition is taking its show on the road. As part of a month of activities, the group held a congressional town hall on April 10 with early childhood educators, care workers and others to address the need for legislation that invests in care, including paid family and medical leave. The group plans a lobby day in Congress while hosting events in several states. The coalition, formed last year, is one of the nation’s largest groups of labor unions and nonprofit organizations. Members include the AFL-CIO, the AFT and MomsRising Together.

As he wrapped up his remarks, Biden turned to how we might responsibly pay for these public supports that everyone needs. His predecessor’s massive, reckless tax cuts for the ultrawealthy are set to expire next year, and if President Biden gets re-elected, he said, they “will stay expired.”

“No billionaire should pay a lower tax rate than a teacher, a firefighter or a care worker,” Biden said. If everyone pays their fair share, “imagine what we can do for America.”

And he left the crowd with parting thoughts about who they are and what they can accomplish: “You’re all somebody’s hero. We need you,” Biden said. “Together, I know we can do this.”

[Annette Licitra/Pulin Modi photos]