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United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers & Allied Workers

Sanders Skips Building Trades Legislative Conference

But don't fret many did and it should not be seen as a snub

Kris LaGrange's picture
Apr 10, 2019

This week, leaders from the Building and Construction Trades Council met in Washington D.C. for their annual legislative conference. A mainstay at the event are elected officials and candidates for office. In 2017, Trump was one of the speakers and this year a number of Presidential candidates are set to speak.

Speakers at the conference will include Presidential frontrunners Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, as well as a number of other candidates like Senator Corey Booker, Senator Amy Klobuchar, and Congressman Tim Ryan. However, missing from the lineup are 3 of the top candidates, Senator Bernie Sanders, Congressman Beto O’Rourke, and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

With a little under ten months, until the first vote is cast in the Democratic primary, candidates are already making decisions about where to spend their time and valuable resources. For some candidates that have had a tough time getting media attention, speaking at a major conference in DC is a good idea, but for Sanders, O’Rourke, and Buttigieg, they may have felt that it was more fruitful to be out in Iowa campaigning. All three candidates have a lot of ground to cover. Sanders and O’Rourke got into the campaign late and unlike candidates like Corey Booker, they have not spent the last three-plus years campaigning for candidates in Iowa and New Hampshire.

The candidates have to make a tough decision. Do they head to DC and kiss the ring of union leaders who are going to sit on their asses and get into the race too late, or head to an early state and talk to voters? Both approaches have merit. Speaking at the conference is the candidate's opportunity to impress the 1,000+ leaders of some of the most influential unions in the country. Plus, you don’t want to be seen as disrespecting a group of people who are extremely influential within Democratic politics.

On the flip side though, someone like Beto O’Rourke is trying to get his name out there to as many people as he possibly can, plus he has to raise money, build relationships with local political leaders and hire staff. In one day on the campaign trail, more people will attend his events and watch his livestreams then would have seen a 15-minute speech at the conference, especially since they decided to not livestream it on Facebook for the membership to see, a move that they have done in the past.  Sanders is in the same boat. Instead of speaking at the conference, Sanders and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who is another candidate who skipped the conference, introduced a Medicare for All bill in the Senate. A video of the accompanying press conference, has already been viewed over 125,000 times.

While press conferences, Facebook live videos, and small rallies are important, it is also important to build relationships with the leaders that can deliver votes on Election Day. At this conference, there isn't just top brass from the international unions, but many rank and file, ground level leaders who have direct access to members on construction sites across the United States. Sadly in 2016 many Building Trades members were very vocal in supporting Trump even though their union leadership advised against it. The AFL-CIO reported that they failed miserably in the last Presidential election by allowing 40% of their members to vote against their own interests. That is the obvious 800-pound gorilla in the room at this year's conference.

While we here at UCOMM are sure that the candidates who missed the conference meant no ill will towards the Building Trades and their member unions, it was a missed opportunity for them to not appear and further lay out their plans for working people. We have heard Sanders talk earlier in the week about abolishing Right to Work and O’Rourke has been on the campaign trail talking up Apprenticeships, so we know that they support many labor issues.  It would have just been nice for them to tell America's elected union leadership straight to their face. Part of getting the support of unions is showing up and all three candidates will have to show over the next 10 months that they are willing to show up and stand with the Building Trades Unions if they want their members to support them.

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