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30,000 union workers call on Biden to cancel all student debt: ‘We are wanting to let him know that unions have demands on him’

President Joe Biden.

Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

  • The Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation urged President Biden to cancel all student debt.
  • The federation also called on lawmakers like Sen. Elizabeth Warren to keep pressure on the issue.
  • Biden recently extended the pause on student-loan payments, but has yet to act on broad forgiveness.

One way President Joe Biden can show he is truly “union-friendly” is by canceling all student debt, according to a group of labor unions.

Last week, the Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation, within the AFL-CIO — the largest federation of unions in the US — unanimously passed a resolution that called on Biden to cancel all student debt by executive order.

The federation, which represents 30,000 workers, wrote in its press release that 55% of the state’s residents have student debt, with the average load standing at $33,256. Along with calling on Biden to act on the issue, the federation also called on Massachusetts Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey, along with other elected officials, to continue keeping the pressure on the president to cancel student debt.

“He has framed himself as a union-friendly president, and we are wanting to let him know that unions have demands on him, such as canceling student debt,” Spokesperson Ian Rhodewalt told WAMC public radio. “An executive order to cancel student debt would benefit working class people, union workers across the country,” he added.

—Western Mass Area Labor Federation – WMALF (@WWmalf) January 12, 2022

Since Biden took office, many advocacy groups, unions, and progressive lawmakers have been calling on Biden to act on the $1.7 trillion student debt crisis and cancel at least $50,000 in student debt per borrower. While the president has extended the pandemic pause on student-loan payments, he has yet to cancel student debt broadly, prompting pressure for him to deliver on his $10,000 forgiveness campaign promise. 

Biden has been largely silent on his campaign promise to cancel $10,000 in student debt per borrower

Warren and Markey have both been prominent leaders in the student-loan forgiveness fight, although Warren’s proposal is centered on $50,000 in debt cancellation, while the federation does not want there to be a limit on the forgiveness.

This is not the first time unions have voiced their support for broad student-loan relief. In June, 128 organizations — including the AFL-CIO and SEIU — urged Biden to extend the pause on student-loan payments until he follows through on his campaign promises to fix broken loan forgiveness programs and cancel federal student debt.

As Insider has previously reported, the president has begun reforming programs, like the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which forgives student debt for public servants after ten years of qualifying payments but ran up a 98% denial rate. When it comes to his promise of approving $10,000 in student debt cancellation per borrower, though, Biden has been largely silent, with his administration saying it’s up to Congress to pass legislation that would carry out that measure.

Still, lawmakers and advocates are not easing up. After Biden extended the pause on student-loan payments a third time, through May 1, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote on Twitter: “Yesterday President Biden announced he was extending the pause of student loan payments for 90 days. Today would be a great day for a follow-up announcement that he’s going to #CancelStudentDebt!”

And Lydia Wood, executive director of the federation, agreed.

“For decades we have touted higher education as a path to the middle-class, but that path is increasingly becoming a debt trap, impacting everything from working families’ ability to buy a home, start a family, to pursuing particular careers,” Wood wrote in a statement. “We need President Biden to act now to forgive student loans jumpstart our economy, and free millions of Americans from a lifelong burden of debt.” 


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