Six Dem hopefuls push workers’ rights at Las Vegas forum
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., speaks at a Service Employees International Union forum on labor issues, Saturday, April 27, 2019, in Las Vegas. | John Locher/AP

LAS VEGAS —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 and seeing homeless people sleeping in them.

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 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.

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 one red cent 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.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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