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

Failing Bridges Hold Public Hostage

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) gave the public just a few hours’ notice before closing a major bridge in March, citing significant safety concerns.

The West Seattle Bridge functioned as an essential component of  the city’s local and regional transportation network, carrying 125,000 travelers a day while serving Seattle’s critical maritime and freight industries. Closing it was a huge blow to the city and its citizens. 

Yet neither Seattle’s struggle with bridge maintenance nor the inconvenience now facing the city’s motorists is unusual. Decades of neglect left bridges across the country crumbling or near collapse, requiring a massive investment to keep traffic flowing safely.

When they opened it in 1984, officials predicted the West Seattle Bridge would last 75 years.

But in 2013, cracks started appearing in the center span’s box girders, the main horizontal support beams below the roadway. These cracks spread 2 feet in a little more than two weeks, prompting the bridge’s closure.

And it’s still at risk of falling.  

The city set up an emergency alert system so those in the “fall zone” could be quickly evacuated if the bridge deteriorates to the point of collapse.

More than one-third of U.S. bridges similarly need repair work or replacement, a reminder of America’s urgent need to invest in long-ignored infrastructure.

Fixing or replacing America’s bridges wouldn’t just keep Americans moving. It would also provide millions of family-supporting jobs for steel and cement workers, while also boosting the building trades and other industries.

With bridges across the country close to failure and millions unemployed, America needs a major infrastructure campaign now more than ever.

 

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work