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Vice President Kamala Harris called for increased care worker wages and decried ‘extremist’ GOP leaders in Philly visit

Harris spoke in a moderated conversation with SEIU president and secretary-treasurer at an international executive board meeting in Philadelphia.

Vice President Kamala Harris spoke at a national SEIU meeting in Philadelphia on Tuesday. She pledged support for labor unions.
Vice President Kamala Harris spoke at a national SEIU meeting in Philadelphia on Tuesday. She pledged support for labor unions.Read moreJose F. Moreno/ Staff Photographer

Vice President Kamala Harris visited a meeting of union leaders in Philadelphia on Tuesday and said the Biden administration and organizers have “a fight on our hands” to increase pay for workers and protect them against attacks on personal rights and freedoms.

“I know the leaders in this room. … You don’t give up,” Harris told the executive board of the Service Employees International Union gathered at the Sheraton in Center City. “The work you do is changing lives and improving the condition of our country and our standing when we say we have certain values and ideals about equality of people.”

SEIU represents service employees in Philadelphia and across the country working in health care, public service, and janitorial and security services. Harris joined a moderated conversation with the union’s president, Mary Kay Henry, and secretary-treasurer, April Verrett.

Harris’ visit to Philadelphia came as she and the Biden administration are ramping up travel and emphasizing their commitment to organized labor as they gear up for a 2024 reelection campaign. Pennsylvania, which Joe Biden won in 2020, is expected to be a key swing state in next year’s presidential election.

Harris chairs a White House labor task force, and touted the Biden administration’s labor accomplishments.

“We believe our administration will prove to have been the most union-friendly administration in all of America’s history,” she said. “Joe Biden lives, breathes, and cares so deeply about the importance of strengthening and uplifting working people, through strengthening and uplifting labor unions.”

Speaking to issues that directly impact SEIU members, Harris touted a proposal that would require 80% of Medicaid payments for home health care to go toward wages for personal care workers and home health aides.

Still, she said, “There’s more work to be done.” Harris called for legislation that would decrease childcare costs while increasing wages for childcare workers, as well as for proposals to improve nursing home staffing, wages, and benefits.

“That is some of the most noble work that anybody could do,” Harris said, “to decide that you will get your life’s work to give support and love and care to somebody you’ve never met.”

She also spoke about attacks on American freedoms and rights by “extremist” GOP leaders through things like book bans, and took aim at the Supreme Court for reversing Roe v. Wade.

“[T]he United States Supreme Court, the highest court in our land … just took a constitutional right from the people of America, from the women of America.”

In a statements after the visit, the Republican National Committee criticized Harris and Biden.

“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are actively making life harder for Pennsylvanians and any claim otherwise is pure gaslighting,” RNC spokesperson Rachel Lee said in a statement. “The Biden-Harris agenda has abjectly failed workers with soaring inflation, lower wages, and a higher cost of living.”

Harris received a warm welcome in Philadelphia on Tuesday. Even before she emerged at the Liberty Ballroom in the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown hotel, chants of “Kamala” erupted from the banquet tables full of union organizers.

“We know that Vice President Harris has much in common with the 2 million members of our proud organization in Canada, the U.S., and Puerto Rico,” Henry said. “She is a woman of color. She is a daughter of immigrants. She worked at McDonald’s.

“She is an incredible champion of working people,” Henry continued.

The day was swift. Harris touched down in Air Force Two at the Philadelphia International Airport a little after 9 a.m. On the tarmac under an overcast sky, she was all smiles, greeted by cheers from about 100 people, including representatives from City Year, an education service nonprofit, members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, and city officials, including Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson.

Two young girls in green YMCA T-shirts presented Harris with a folded note, which Harris read aloud. It said, in part, that the girls loved that she was the first Black woman vice president, and included a drawing.

“What great penmanship you have,” she said before taking a photo with the girls.

Most of Harris’ remarks to SEIU leaders were in a meeting closed to the media. She doubled down on the administration’s drive to invest in care workers and the care industry, according to a White House official. She also uplifted the importance and value of immigrant workers, and called on Congress to repair the country’s immigration system.

By 11:45 a.m., she was on Air Force Two heading back to Washington, D.C.