Six Dem Hopefuls Push Workers' Rights at Las Vegas Forum

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Six Democratic presidential hopefuls, vying for workers’ support in the 2020 primaries, pushed hard for workers’ rights at an all-day forum in Las Vegas April 27.

For five of them – Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas) and former Gov. John Hickenlooper (Colo.) – workers’ issues such as raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and strengthening the right to organize were front and center.

The sixth, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who was U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary under Democratic President Barack Obama, endorsed workers’ rights, too. But he made “right to housing” his top issue, having toured Las Vegas’ underground viaducts where homeless people sleep.

The six are among 21 Democrats, so far, vying for the nomination to take on anti-labor GOP incumbent Donald Trump next year. Support from organized labor is a key to their bids.

But there is a contrast between groups of unionized workers. One wing, predominantly minority, female, or both, has been organized by the Service Employees – co-sponsors of the Las Vegas event – and unions such as the Teachers, AFSCME and National Nurses United.

The other wing is still predominantly white male. Other candidates, such as former Vice President Joe Biden, are appealing to them. One influential union representing that group, the Fire Fighters, endorsed Biden on April 29, while warning against the Democrats’ moving too far to the left.

And Biden picked up that endorsement while speaking at a Teamsters union hall in the key swing state of Pennsylvania.

But both wings agree on some key issues, especially labor law reform.

“Economic and political power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of corporations and billionaires, leaving most Americans — of all races —  overworked, underpaid, and struggling to provide for their families,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said in the run-up to the Las Vegas session, entitled the “National Forum on Wages and Working People.”

“No one should have to work multiple jobs just to get by. No one should have to live paycheck to paycheck. And everyone should have the opportunity to join a union, no matter where they work. All discussions about the future direction of our country must boil down to what economic policies can do to shift power to working people,” Henry added.

The hopefuls stuck to that script, too, but added some other issues:

  • Warren called for writing so-called card check recognition of unions into federal labor law and declared there should be more union voices on both the National Labor Relations Board       and in the Labor Department “to ensure businesses treat unions fairly.” She also outlined her tax-the-rich plan – to fund universal child care and student debt forgiveness – and her legislation to mandate 40% of corporate board members represent workers.
  • Harris said the $15 minimum wage is “only a start” towards fairness. Companies must be forced to pay into workers’ retirement accounts, among other moves, she said. She also pledged to seek repeal of the federal law section that lets states enact so-called “right to work” laws.

Hickenlooper pledged to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision last year, but didn’t say how. Janus makes every one of the nation’s 6.2 million state and local government workers – including Fire Fighters, teachers and many of the nurses and janitors SEIU represents – a potential “free rider,” able to use union contracts and services without paying anything for them. The right wing won that partisan 5-4 ruling in hopes it would cripple union finances and ability to fight the corporate agenda.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

An Invitation to Sunny Miami. What Could Be Bad?

Sam Pizzigati

Sam Pizzigati Editor, Too Much online magazine

If a billionaire “invites” you somewhere, you’d better go. Or be prepared to suffer the consequences. This past May, hedge fund kingpin Carl Icahn announced in a letter to his New York-based staff of about 50 that he would be moving his business operations to Florida. But the 83-year-old Icahn assured his staffers they had no reason to worry: “My employees have always been very important to the company, so I’d like to invite you all to join me in Miami.” Those who go south, his letter added, would get a $50,000 relocation benefit “once you have established your permanent residence in Florida.” Those who stay put, the letter continued, can file for state unemployment benefits, a $450 weekly maximum that “you can receive for a total of 26 weeks.” What about severance from Icahn Enterprises? The New York Post reported last week that the two dozen employees who have chosen not to uproot their families and follow Icahn to Florida “will be let go without any severance” when the billionaire shutters his New York offices this coming March. Bloomberg currently puts Carl Icahn’s net worth at $20.5 billion.

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