WASHINGTON -- Speaking to a crowd of United Auto Workers union members on Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden said business interests and the right wing are carrying out a "concerted" and "well financed" plan to dismantle labor unions, a strategy he linked directly to growing income inequality in the U.S.
"This is a concerted, full-throated, well organized, well financed, well thought out, long-term effort waging a war on labor's house," Biden said. "Because they know, they know -- not all business, but these guys on the right -- they know without you there they'll call every shot. I mean this sincerely. I think sometimes you guys underestimate it.
"And guess what?" he added. "They've been very successful. Look what's happened in Michigan and Indiana."
A more outspoken backer of organized labor than his boss, Biden has used the "war on labor's house" line before while speaking to union audiences, as recently as 2011. But the efforts Biden was describing have ramped up in that time, with Republicans in Michigan and Indiana passing right-to-work laws since then. Such laws forbid contracts between companies and unions that require all workers to pay the union for bargaining on their behalf, thereby weakening unions' clout.
"I never thought I'd be fighting a wave of right-to-work efforts," Biden said. The vice president said right-to-work laws would be better described as "right to pay you less" and "right to eliminate your right to have a say."
Biden was speaking at the UAW's annual legislative conference in Washington, where members gathered around the labor issues du jour: extending unemployment insurance, raising the minimum wage and opposing a fast-track of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.
Biden noted the shrinking union density in the U.S. -- 6.7 percent of private-sector workers are union members now, compared with 20.1 percent in 1983 -- and equated the fall in union membership with the smaller share of income going to the working class. Workers, "whether union or not," he said, deserve to "reap some of the benefits that they help produce."
"I've gotten in trouble for saying this before but I'll say it again," Biden said. "You guys are the only guys keeping the barbarians at the gates, man."
Well known as a car lover, the vice president alluded to a possible 2016 presidential run by way of a joke about Chevy's Corvette Stingray Z06.
"Everyone wants to know whether I'm going to run for president," he said. "There's a lot of reasons to run for president, but there's one overwhelming reason not to run for president. I'd like to get that Z06 with zero-to-60 in 3.4 seconds. Three-point-four seconds! You tack that sucker up to six grand, and it comes out of the hole like a bullet, man."
Biden closed by saying union members "led the way before, and I'm counting on you to lead again," prompting whistles and an ovation.
"Nobody, nobody, speaks like Joe Biden on collective bargaining and the power of unions," UAW President Bob King said. "Thank you, Joe Biden!"