Democratic Candidates Court Union Members With Promises of Reform

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and three other Democratic contenders said at a labor forum in LA Friday that unions will guide the nation’s political overhaul and will be pivotal as Democrats look to reclaim the White House.

With less than two weeks before the Democratic debates in Ohio, workers attending Service Employee International Unions’ for All Summit were given the opportunity to present questions directly to presidential contenders.

Ethiopian immigrant Tseganesh Endegeshet told Biden that despite working two jobs at Denver International Airport, she is unable to support her family.

Endegeshet asked Biden to present his plan for supporting access to union benefits for workers like herself.

Biden, the current front-runner in polling among 2020 candidates, said he would raise the national minimum wage and appoint union-friendly members to the National Labor Relations Board.

“Wall Street didn’t build America, the middle class built America and unions built the middle class,” Biden told the crowd. “When workers do well, everyone does well. We need to take our country back and unions are the ones to do it.”

Rhonda Miller, a black bus driver from Florida, spoke about her experiences with violent racists and asked Biden how would ensure that the U.S. economy is both racially just and equitable.

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden greets supporters during a visit to the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 8, 2019, in Des Moines. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Biden, who told Miller he once drove a school bus before college, said he would increase enforcement of anti-discrimination labor laws and boost loan access for black entrepreneurs.

A Hill-HarrisX survey found Friday that Biden leads in support among black voters by a wide margin among other 2020 presidential hopefuls.

Offstage, Biden told reporters that President Donald Trump is “unhinged” for soliciting Ukraine and China for support in investigating the him and his son Hunter, but stopped short of voicing support for impeachment.

Warren shared stories about her struggles as a working class mother and how members of her family benefited from union jobs.

Addressing a question posed by Nila Payton, a Pittsburg, Pennsylvania worker trying to form a union, Warren said she would direct labor officials to require federal contractors to pay a $15 an hour minimum wage and a pathway to unionization.

“The problem is these giant corporations who have enormous power to run over workers, run over customers, run over communities, and sometimes run over the federal government,” Warren said. “We must have the courage to fight back, enforce antitrust laws. And we need a secretary of labor who is on the side of workers.”

Warren also touted her plan to battle climate change, saying that it not only provides a roadmap for a sustainable economy but includes a plan to end corporate-backed corruption in politics that has led to inaction.

Addressing a question on whether she backs impeaching Trump over his dealings with Ukraine, Warren said she’d support removing Trump from office.

“What Trump has done is an impeachable offense,” Warren told reporters. “He should be impeached.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders withdrew from Friday’s event after temporarily suspending his campaign this week following a heart attack.

A Public Policy Institute of California poll found Wednesday that Warren leads Biden and Sanders in a near three-way tie among likely Golden State primary voters.

Warren leads among the frontrunners with 23% support while Biden and Sanders trailed closely at 22% and 21%, respectively, the survey said. California Sen. Kamala Harris, who also spoke at the forum, was fourth in the poll with 8%.

Harris told forum attendees she would drastically expand voter protections and restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated people.

Harris said the 2020 elections are under clear threats from foreign powers, namely Russia.

“They played us and are going to do it again,” Harris said.

Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro told forum attendees he would support “no questions asked” access to Medicare for all who need it.

Castro announced Friday that he will cross into Mexico next week to assist refugees in their quest to seek asylum in the U.S.

The migrant camps Castro will visit have sprung up as a result of the Trump administration’s policy, which forces asylum seekers to remain south of the U.S. border until their cases are heard.

Castro was the first candidate in the 2020 field to release an immigration plan, calling for decriminalization of border crossings and a pathway to citizenship for so-called Dreamers.

Though he was last to speak, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker drew the loudest applause from forum attendees.

Booker said that if elected in 2020, he would forgive student loan debt for any worker in public service professions and appoint federal judges who will uphold workers’ rights to organize.

“We can’t say we’re a nation seeking to build a better union and then go and undermine unions,” Booker said.

Former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg are scheduled to speak at the forum on Saturday.

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