Democratic Presidential Hopefuls Make Pitches To 3,000 Building Trades Activists
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - It’s called, in political parlance, “a cattle call.” The phrase refers to what happens when Presidential Hopefuls parade their positions, one by one, before a group, large or small. And that’s what nine Democrats - John Hickenlooper, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Tim Ryan, Terry McAuliffe, Michael Bennet, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar and Eric Swalwell, in that order – did before 3,000 Construction Workers at last week’s session of North America’s Building Trades Unions’ (NABTC) Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.
All supported Pro-Worker and particularly Pro-Building Trades causes, recognizing the activists represent three million Unionists, many of whom will vote in next year’s Presidential Primaries and Caucuses - but overriding the specifics was the fact that tens of thousands of Construction Workers in 2016 defected to Republican Nominee Donald Trump, especially in the key Great Lakes States of Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania, where his narrow popular vote wins gave him Electoral College victory.
Several hopefuls acknowledged it, reminding the delegates Trump had broken his key promise to the Building Trades: A comprehensive plan to rebuild the Nation’s crumbling roads, bridges, railroads, airports and other infrastructure. Trump has yet to send a plan to Congress. Warren noted he lies when he talks about $1 trillion for infrastructure. Trump’s talking points produce only a $200 million plan, she said.
All the hopefuls endorsed Project Labor Agreements (PLAs), where Unions and contractors agree on Union representation for Workers in return for a set of work rules and grievance procedures to cover problems on the job - and the PLAs also set specific budgets for the projects.
Another cause, which all backed and which the Unionists also took to Congress, is preserving the Davis-Bacon Act and its requirement contractors pay Prevailing Wages on Federally-funded construction. Cut-rate contractors and their Republican allies have campaigned for years to eliminate Davis-Bacon, thus driving Workers’ wages down.
The leadoff speaker, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, set the tone by declaring that “as President, any attempt to eliminate Prevailing Wage or Davis-Bacon will meet my veto pen.”
“We must rebuild our infrastructure with the strong protections of Union labor, of the Prevailing Wage and of Davis-Bacon,” added U.S. Senator Klobuchar of Minnesota, whose father was a Minnesota Newspaper Guild Union Member and whose mother, an American Federation of Teachers (AFT) Member, walked picket lines in the 1951 Twin Cities Teachers Strike.
Harris got very specific on infrastructure, rattling off statistics on what needs rebuilding: 32% of urban streets; 14% of rural roads; one million miles of water pipes “that have been in use for one hundred years or more;” and one of every nine bridges, among other needs. “You look at our roads and bridges, and all the potholes, and Workers’ tires go flat. Anybody tried to buy tires lately?,” she asked, to laughter. “These things are all related.”
And Booker, now a U.S. Senator, reminded the crowd that, when he was Newark’s mayor, he pushed through New Jersey’s first Municipal Prevailing Wage Ordinance.
While all nine praised the role of Unions, and especially the Building Trades, in creating the U.S. Middle Class, only four – U.S. Senators Warren of Massachusetts, Harris, Klobuchar and Bennet of Colorado - explicitly endorsed strengthening Unions through comprehensive Labor Law Reform. Booker talked about “creating new types of Unions” for Home Health Care Workers and other unrepresented groups.
Even fewer - Warren, Harris and Klobuchar - vigorously endorsed repeal of the 72-year-old Federal Provision to let States enact so-called Right-To-Work (for less) Laws. U.S., Senator Bernie Sanders (Independent-Vermont) - a co-leader in current polls, told an International Association of Machinists (IAM) Conference last week he’s reintroduced his anti-Right-To-Work Legislation.
Another hopeful, former Virginia Governor McAuliffe, reminded the crowd he campaigned hard against two Right-Wing attempts to write Right-To-Work into the State Constitution. Both lost. Right-To-Work Laws let Workers take Union Services without paying one red cent for them and they’re a favorite cause of Big Business and the Radical Right.
The mentions of Trump led some of the hopefuls, notably Booker, Warren and Harris, to pivot to how to bring the Nation together and end the rancor, divisiveness, hate and distrust Trump fosters. All also declared new jobs, construction and otherwise, must be high-paying Union jobs.
“Nobody should have to work more than one job to pay the bills,” Harris said. “If you’re tired of being crushed by a rigged system, and if you believe that our democracy can and should work for everyone, then join us in this fight,” she declared.
“This election isn’t about ‘one’ man. ‘It’s got to be about reclaiming the idea of America,’” said Booker, an African-American whose grandfather migrated from the South to Detroit for World War II work - and to join the UAW. That particularly means the American Dream - and for all, not excluding Muslims, Spanish speakers or others, he pointedly added.
“We need to ‘change the rules and clean up corruption and put more power in the hands of Workers and small businesses’ - and ‘change the rules’ of democracy,” starting with a constitutional guarantee “of the right to vote and have every vote counted,” Warren said.