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Talking Union on a National platform

As Hillary and Bernie pander to their base and union’s choose sides, is either candidate truly inspiring the non-union to make a stand

Kris LaGrange's picture
Mar 03, 2016

While much of the talk during the last few weeks of the Presidential election have been on the circus that is the Republican Primary, this week has seen Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders talking about the issues that matter most to organized labor.

On Wednesday, March 2nd in front of a union crowd at the Javits Center in NYC, Clinton rallied hundreds of union members and supporters.  The former Secretary of State was joined by leaders and members of the Teachers union, Carpenters  and Retail Workers among others.  Clinton brought up increasing the minimum wage and fighting for prevailing wage on construction sites.  She also spoke about the need to expand universal Pre-K and pass immigration reform.  “I will say this loudly enough so every Republican candidate and Republican governor across our country can hear it. We will fight back against attacks on workers,” she said. “You deserve to be supported, not scapegoated. And supporting workers means supporting unions.”

As usual Senator Bernie Sanders was talking union in Michigan.  As he toured the state ahead of the March 8th primary, Sanders spoke about the need to kill the job killing Trans-Pacific Partnership.  At a rally on Thursday March 3rd Sanders was joined by former Larry Choen, the former President of the Communications Workers of America as well as Kevin Mack, an executive board member in Detroit’s IBEW Local 58; and Kim Ward, former American Axel worker and UAW member.  “Everyone understands what these disastrous trade agreements are all about. The results are clear. You look at Detroit. Look at Flint. Our trade policies have failed,” Sanders said. “The truth is that these trade agreements have been a disaster for working families in this country and they have benefited the CEOs of major corporations.”

Sanders also released an ad in Michigan touting his record as the only presidential candidate “who has consistently fought trade deals that ship Michigan jobs overseas.” The commercial says “Sanders opposed the disastrous NAFTA trade deal. Opposed special trade status with China. Now he’s opposing the Trans-Pacific trade deal, while others waffle.”   You can watch the commercial here. Sanders can also be credited with forcing Clinton to make union issues part of her campaign. Clinton was in full support of the Trans-Pacific Partnership when she first started running for President and was in favor the Keystone Pipeline. Now he former first Lady changed her tune on both these issues once Sanders called her out in the National spotlight. To her defense, the union community is split on the Keystone Pipeline project.

A question we have is how often has either candidate promoted the right to organize a union while campaigning in red states with extremely low union density. Political junkies can explain the motives and end results of pandering to their established base – but is the labor community content with this approach. Our country is in dire need of true leadership at a time when hate and intolerance are taking over on the Republican side. Fight for $15, the TPP and Universal Pre-K may poll well, but what about being fired for organizing a union. Talking union at a union hall is safe, but what about doing the same on stump speeches along the campaign trail. Clinton safely put out a press release when Missouri blocked Right-to-Work, but where was she when West Virginia became the 26th state in the union to adopt Right-to-Work (for less). In October, Senator Sanders introduced a federal law banning Right-to-Work. In 2008 Barak Obama made the right to organize a union part of his daily campaign message, that message obviously has yet to be heard consistently by either candidate in states where Right to Work (for less) laws exist.

As the campaign heats up, with 55% of the earned Democratic delegates slated to be distributed by the end of March, the candidates are speaking directly to their base.  With major primaries coming up throughout the Midwest and in New York on April 19th, the candidates are very likely to continue the outreach to organized labor to make sure they come out to vote.  Click here to find out when your states primary is.

Brian Young contributed to this story.

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