Democratic Candidates Woo Union Members at Philly Forum

Former Vice President and 2020 presidential hopeful Joe Biden speaks to 2,000 union members at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia on Sept. 17, 2019. (Alexandra Jones / CNS)

PHILADELPHIA (CN) – Former Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders and four other Democratic presidential candidates courted American workers Tuesday at a labor forum in Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Council AFL-CIO put on the “Workers’ Presidential Summit” to give workers a chance to hear directly from Democratic presidential candidates on how they plan to level the playing field for working families.

“We need a president who will make it easier, not harder, for workers to join or form a union for a better life,” Patrick Eiding, AFL-CIO president told the crowd of around 2,000 members of various unions, noting income inequality is at a record high.

“Make no mistake,” he said, “the path to the presidency runs through our state.”

In an opinion piece published in the Philadelphia Inquirer this week, Eiding noted that President Donald Trump won Pennsylvania in 2016 by 44,000 votes, and that there are more than 700,000 union members across the state of Pennsylvania. The event drew union members from Philadelphia and the surrounding suburbs.

Although Biden committed to the event only Monday, he was first in line to speak.

“Corporations are getting wealthier, and wealthier and wealthier, but look what’s happened – wages for employees have gone down,” he said.

“You’re the only folks that keep the barbarians on the other side of the gate,” Biden told the crowd, and promised to end Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy.

“We have to start regarding work as much as we do wealth,” he said. “Why should any one of you pay a higher tax rate than anyone making 30 or 40 million bucks?”

Biden also promised child care credits to everyone who needs them and to fine big corporations that prevent employees from forming a union or striking $50,000. On the environmental front, he said he would pursue zero carbon emissions by 2050.

“We need high-speed rail that creates real jobs, taking automobiles off the road,” Biden said, also pushing for the installation of electric vehicle charging stations.

“We’ve got to transition,” he said. “There’s a lot of things we can do to make sure that people have good paying jobs and a prevailing wage.”

The crowd reserved its loudest applause for Sanders, who touted his 100% voting record from the AFL-CIO. Before answering questions, Sanders talked about working with Amazon and Disney employees who were being paid “starvation wages” to get them at least $15/hour.

“Over the last 45 years, the corporate elite through their greed and corruption has been waging a war against the average American worker in this country,” Sanders said. “Today the average American worker is not making one penny more than he or she did 45 years ago.”

He promised to create an agenda “that works for all of us and not just the 1%.” And he vowed to put regulations in place so that if a company refuses to negotiate a contract with union workers, it would be severely penalized.

Sanders touted his plan to “create millions” more union jobs using a green energy economy and to reform America’s health care system.

“Right now we spend twice as much on health care in this country than they do in any other country,” Sanders said. “The pharmaceutical industry is not only incredibly greedy, they are not only corrupt, they are engaging in price-fixing every single day.”

He noted his trip to Canada with diabetics to purchase insulin for a tenth of what they would pay in the United States.

“It’s not just insulin,” he told the crowd. “It’s almost every other major drug that we need.”

During his time, entrepreneur Andrew Yang regaled the union members of his guaranteed minimum income – a plan to give all Americans 18 and over $1,000 every month, funded by taxes on big tech companies.

“Amazon’s a trillion-dollar tech company,” Yang said. “They paid zero dollars in taxes last year.”

He said his plan would be particularly beneficial for union employees.

“If we give everyone one grand a month, then union workers will actually be able to negotiate with leaders,” Yang said. “This is how we change the game to work for you all and the us of America.”

Other candidates who spoke at the event included Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and billionaire and activist Tom Steyer.

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