Clinton Stumps for Friendly Union Faces in Pennsylvania

     PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Polled to take Pennsylvania handily in the April 26 primary, Hillary Clinton gave an impassioned speech on labor rights at the state’s biennial union convention.
     Many of Clinton’s statements on economic growth and the advancement of the labor force elicited cheers of approval from the overwhelmingly Democratic crowd gathered at the downtown Sheraton for the AFL-CIO convention Wednesday.
     Touching on the traditional hallmarks of union support, the former U.S. senator said workers can rely on her voting record to trust that she will defend their interests when it comes to labor outsourcing, Social Security preservation and the gender wage gap.
     “We together have to stand up [against] all those forces trying to weaken the labor unions and tell them – ‘not on our watch,'” Clinton said to a roar from the crowd.
     Clinton promised to offer “a voice for unions” if she takes the White House.
     “You deserve a president who will work as hard as you do, who will get results the way you do every day, and who will always have your back,” the former secretary of state said amid deafening applause.
     Democratic ideals were showcased throughout the rally. Opening speaker and Union Veterans Council executive Will Fischer left the stage to a standing ovation when he rallied the crowd to “kick [Republicans’] asses” in the voting booths and in Washington.
     Among attendees enlivened by the theatrics, insurance marketing executive Michelle Baxter said the speech confirmed why she supports Clinton.
     “She hit on points important to us – working families, jobs, fair trade,” said Baxter, who traveled from Indiana as both a union delegate and a professional exhibitor.
     Angela Gillis, who attends the convention as a guest of her union-member cousin, was even more effusive in her praise of the former first lady.
     “[We] gotta get Hillary in,” Gillis said. “She’s speaking her mind and telling the truth.”
     Union support may prove crucial in deciding who represents the Democrats in November’s general election, but a Harper poll released Wednesday put Clinton ahead of Sen. Bernie Sanders by a whopping 22 points. Quinnipiac meanwhile put the former secretary’s advantage at a more conservative 6 points, in its own Wednesday poll.
     After his unexpected victories in Wisconsin and Michigan, however, Sanders might yet pull off a dramatic eleventh-hour win reminiscent of nearby Villanova University’s buzzer-beating shot in Monday’s college basketball championship game.
     The mood Wednesday at the Sheraton favored Clinton heavily, but there was little ill will toward the Vermont senator.
     Laborers’ union delegate Anthony Jacobs called Sanders “the ultimate fighter” and admired his support for “human values,” but said he would ultimately vote for Clinton because “the union has a relationship with her.”
     In a speech preceding Clinton’s appearance, American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten warned against developing tunnel vision for either candidate.
     Though an ardent Clinton supporter, like her union, Weingarten urged the audience to switch to Sanders without hesitation if he wins the nomination.
     “The [election] stakes are too high to play any kind of protest game,” she said.
     Whether conventiongoers preferred Hillary or Bernie, one thing they all seemed to have in common was a shared disdain for the Republican candidates. From one corner of the packed Sheraton ballroom to the other, there was nary a supporter of Ted Cruz or Donald Trump – or “Crump,” as Weingarten derisively called the men in her speech – to be found.
     Marine veteran-turned-union-man Will Fischer took it one step further, referring to Republican front-runner Trump as a “chicken-hawked charlatan,” a description that apparently delighted the crowd.
     Even Clinton took a subtle jab at the right in her address.
     “We’ve got other candidates talking about building walls, pitting Americans against each other,” she said. “My campaign is about breaking down barriers.”
     Stopping short of any similar slight against Sanders, however, Clinton said only that the two disagree on how to solve the problems they both see. Clinton said that some of her opponent’s ideas won’t work, though, because “the numbers don’t add up.”
     Sanders was scheduled to close out the three-day at the convention Thursday morning. The AFL-CIO notably has yet to publicly endorse a candidate, leaving it one of the only unions holding out on such a selection.
     Brian Waple, an AFL-CIO delegate who identified as more conservative than fellow union peers, said Sanders has the inside track on the vaunted AFL-CIO endorsement.
     A resident of Scranton, Waple doubted that his union will base its endorsement decisions on each candidate’s convention speeches, saying that he believes the Powers That Be have already made up their minds and will not publicly align with either candidate until after the April 26 Pennsylvania primary.
     Clinton has already garnered the lion’s share of union support, garnering endorsements from 25 different unions to date. That list includes the 1.6 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), whose delegates turned out in force for the convention.
     Throughout her speech, Clinton made the most of her stronghold among union members. She vowed to attack labor outsourcing at its crux, saying she would “slap an exit tax” on companies who moved overseas and promising to “force [them] to give back any tax breaks they received.”
     She also decried China as “the biggest abuser of global trade.”
     “I will stop dead in its tracks any deal that hurts America,” she said, again to raucous applause. “American workers don’t quit and we can’t quit on our workers.”
     In pledging her support to the attendees, Clinton also asked for theirs, urging them to get out and vote in the upcoming primaries.
     “Let’s go win an election in April, and then let’s do it again in November!” she said before leaving the stage.

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