Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden showcased his union support Monday while President Trump touted the rebounding economy, his get-tough policy on China and the rapid development of a coronavirus vaccine as the campaigns sought to woo American workers.
The competing Labor Day messages came as both campaigns sought to win over blue-collar workers, an increasingly important demographic in the pivotal battleground states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
For Mr. Biden, that meant emphasizing his close ties to the labor movement. He promised to be “the strongest labor president you’ve ever had” as his campaign trumpeted his “Build Back America” platform, which would boost union organizing by passing “card check” legislation, raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and reversing the Trump tax cuts.
“I’ve never been afraid to say the word ‘union,’ not when I was growing up, not when I grew up, not today, and you can be sure you’ll be hearing that word union plenty of times when I’m in the White House,” Mr. Biden said on a virtual town hall hosted by the AFL-CIO. “The words of a president matter. Union.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Trump pointed to the economic recovery after the COVID-19 shutdown, noting that 1.4 million jobs were added in August, making it 10.6 million more jobs since May for “a record that’s not even close,” he said.
“We’re currently witnessing the fastest labor-market recovery from an economic crisis in history, world history,” Mr. Trump said at a White House press conference. “By contrast, Biden presided over the weakest and the slowest recovery since the Great Depression.”
He repeated his belief that a coronavirus vaccine could be available by October and accused his political opponents of “endangering lives” by questioning whether shots approved by his administration would be safe.
“The vaccine will be very safe,” Mr. Trump said. “You could have a very big surprise coming up.”
Multiple vaccine candidates are steeped in phase three trials as Mr. Trump scrambles to stamp out a pandemic that has killed nearly 190,000 people in the U.S. and devastated the economy with shutdowns of major industries.
Experts say it’s a stretch to think a vaccine would be ready and approved by Election Day — Nov. 3 — given the time it takes to enroll 30,000 people in each trial, give them doses and wait to see what kind of immune response it produces and who gets sick or not.
They say November or December is more likely, though Mr. Trump said Monday: “Could even have it during the month of October.”
He emphasized the good news about the COVID-19 fatality rate, which has dropped 85% since April. Mr. Biden blasted the Trump administration for its coronavirus response, saying it failed to give adequate support to public workers.
“I want to thank every public employee watching for your courage. I mean that sincerely,” said Mr. Biden. “For the past three months, you’ve fought the daily pandemic without supplies or support from your government. The whole country owes you.”
Mr. Biden held his virtual meeting with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, while collecting union endorsements from the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the International Union of Elevator Constructors, and the National Federation of Federal Employees.
He continued to push for the HEROES Act, the $3 trillion relief package that passed the House in May, and called for an end to state right-to-work laws, which prevent workers from being required to join a union or pay its dues as a condition of employment.
“People are dying, out of work, afraid for their children, the clock is ticking,” Mr. Biden said. “We have to give workers the power to make their families whole and make them whole now. People are getting killed figuratively and literally across the board.”
His running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris of California, toured an International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers training facility in Milwaukee and held a private meeting with the family of Jacob Blake, the Black man shot seven times by a White police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
“Strong unions built the American middle class — everything from a 40-hour work week to paid leave was because of workers who organized and fought,” Ms. Harris tweeted. “And when @JoeBiden and I are in the White House, advancing worker rights will be a priority.”
At the other end of the state was Vice President Mike Pence, flanked by electrical workers as he spoke to a crowd of about 250 at the Dairyland Power Cooperative in Lacrosse. He called Mr. Trump “the best friend American workers have ever had.”
“When this president stands up every day and fights for American workers and jobs, jobs, jobs, we stand with President Donald Trump,” Mr. Pence said.
At the White House, Mr. Trump raised the possibility of separating the U.S. and Chinese economies, known as decoupling.
“So when you mention the word decouple, it’s an interesting word,” said Mr. Trump. “We lose billions of dollars, and if we didn’t do business with them, we wouldn’t lose billions of dollars. It’s called decoupling, so you’ll start thinking about it.”
He took a swing at Mr. Biden’s pledge last month to “shut it down,” referring to the economy, if scientists said it was necessary to control the coronavirus.
“Biden wants to surrender our country to the virus, he wants to surrender our families to the violent left-wing mob, and he wants to surrender our jobs to China,” Mr. Trump said. “Our jobs and our economic well-being. I’ve taken billions and billions of dollars from China. No other president has done” that by imposing tariffs.
Ms. Harris suggested Sunday that she would have to think twice before taking the vaccine.
“I think that’s going to be an issue for all of us. I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump,” she told CNN’s “State of the Union.”
The president dismissed such criticism and accused Democrats of sowing mistrust of vaccines at a critical time.
“It’s political rhetoric. That’s all it is,” Mr. Trump said.
Sign up for Daily Newsletters