Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday received a new job as chairperson of President Biden’s pro-union task force — despite already presiding as migration “point person” as the border crisis continues to spiral out of control.

Harris, who has gotten lukewarm reviews as the president’s go-to on recent migrant influx into the US, has been named chairperson of Biden’s new pro-union effort.

The new White House Task Force on Worker Organizing and Empowerment was created via executive order and “will be dedicated … to empower workers to organize and successfully bargain with their employers,” according to the White House.

While Harris pivots her focus to union growth, Republicans have called her out for not doing enough during her month as Biden’s point person on the US-Mexico border, where there’s at least a 20-year high in illegal crossings.

Harris has yet to visit Central America or tour the border — but she has traveled extensively to promote Biden’s nearly $2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill and his proposed more than $2 trillion infrastructure package.

Last week, the top Republicans on three House committees wrote a biting letter to Harris, saying that “it is unclear what, if any actions you have directed or plan to initiate to respond to the crisis that continues to worsen each day.”

The pro-union task force chaired by Harris will be co-chaired by Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and “will include more than twenty cabinet members and heads of other federal agencies who will take a whole-of-government approach to empower workers,” the White House said.

Unions are an important ally of the Democratic Party and Biden routinely praises the labor union movement.

“I’m a union guy. I support unions. Unions built the middle class. It’s about time they start to get a piece of the action,” Biden said last month at an event in Pittsburgh that kicked off his infrastructure push, which Democrats may try to ram through Congress with no Republican support under special budget reconciliation rules that bypass the usual 60-vote super-majority for bills to pass the Senate.

The infrastructure bill is expected to include provisions of Democrats’ Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act, which would strike down state “right to work” laws that ban compulsory union membership.

The White House release Monday noted, “In 2020, union members made up just 10.8% of the U.S. workforce, down from more than 30% in the 1950s.”

According to the press release, Biden and Harris “believe that the decline of union membership is contributing to serious societal and economic problems in our country. Widespread and deep economic inequality, stagnant real wages, and the shrinking of America’s middle class are all associated with the declining percentage of workers represented by unions. In addition, lower union membership rates have exacerbated the pay gap for women and workers of color.”

Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S. April 2, 2021.
Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington on April 2, 2021.
REUTERS/Erin Scott

The White House said that “the mission of the Task Force will be to mobilize the federal government’s policies, programs, and practices to empower workers to organize and successfully bargain with their employers. This mission includes looking for ways to increase worker power in areas of the country with restrictive labor laws, for marginalized workers including women and people of color, and for workers in industries that are difficult to organize and lack labor protections.”

One goal of the task force is to “Increase union membership across the United States to grow a more inclusive middle class and provide workers the opportunity to come together for the purpose of mutual advancement, the dignity of worker [sic] and workers, respect, and the fair compensation they deserve.”

The task force will issue a report with recommendations in 180 days on proposed pro-union reforms.

Biden on March 24 asked Harris to lead the US response to a surge of migrants, including thousands of families and unaccompanied minors from the “Northern Triangle” — Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — in Central America.

But the White House later emphasized she would address only the “root causes” of migration and not border enforcement.

Harris said this month she intends to travel to Latin America, including Guatemala and Mexico, but a date has not been announced. Harris has spoken by phone with the leaders of Guatemala and Mexico — and will join the Guatemalan leader for a webcast meeting Monday — but she has not spoken with the leaders of El Salvador or Honduras. 

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