‘You know me,’ Bi­den tells Philly AFL-CIO con­ven­tion

The Morning Call - - LOCAL NEWS - By Chris Bren­nan and Julia Ter­ruso

PHILADEL­PHIA – For­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den leaned hard into his long his­tory of sup­port for and from or­ga­nized la­bor on Tues­day, telling hun­dreds of union mem­bers in Philadel­phia he has never let them down.

“The bad news is I’ve been around a long time,” Bi­den said at a Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial fo­rum at the Penn­syl­va­nia Con­ven­tion Cen­ter. “The good news is I’ve been around a long time. You all know me.”

Bi­den de­scribed an Amer­ica econ­omy that pits wealthy cor­po­ra­tions against unions and their or­ga­niz­ers, vow­ing to make chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cers at larger com­pa­nies per­son­ally pay a $50,000 fine for each in­stance where em­ploy­ees are pre­vented from join­ing a union.

“Folks, we can do without Wall Street,” Bi­den said. “Wall Street did not build Amer­ica. Or­di­nary mid­dle class Amer­ica built Amer­ica.”

The for­mer U.S. se­na­tor from Delaware used the event, hosted by the Philadel­phia AFL-CIO, to draw a distinc­tion with some of this Demo­cratic com­peti­tors on health care. Bi­den said his health care pol­icy, if he is elected, would al­low union mem­bers to keep pri­vate health care plans won through col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing.

“You’ve bro­ken your neck to get it,” Bi­den said. “You’ve given up wages to keep it. And no plan should be able to take it away.”

U.S. Sen. Bernie San­ders of Vermont drew the warm­est re­sponse of the day, with many in the crowd standing and chant­ing his name, wav­ing phones to take pic­tures as he took the stage.

Like Bi­den, San­ders ran through his leg­isla­tive his­tory of sid­ing with unions. He added un­re­lent­ing at­tacks on “crooks on Wall Street” and Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

“To­gether we are go­ing to end a cor­rupt po­lit­i­cal sys­tem that al­lows bil­lion­aires to buy elec­tions,” San­ders said. “To­gether we are go­ing to cre­ate an econ­omy that works for all of us, not just wealthy cam­paign con­trib­u­tors.”

That res­onated with most of the crowd, but also drew a heck­ler from the back of the room when San­ders called Trump a patho­log­i­cal liar, fraud and racist. The heck­ler was soon hushed with a “Bernie” chant. “Thank you,” the se­na­tor said.

San­ders promised a $15 per hour min­i­mum wage, to crack down on what he called price­fix­ing in the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try and to cre­ate mil­lions of jobs by switch­ing to clean en­ergy to fight cli­mate change.

“What the sci­en­tists are telling us is, we are play­ing for the fu­ture of our planet,” San­ders said.

En­tre­pre­neur An­drew Yang said his flag­ship cam­paign pro­posal — uni­ver­sal ba­sic in­come — is rooted in the la­bor move­ment.

Giv­ing $1,000 a month to ev­ery­one more than 18 years old, he said, would help unions ne­go­ti­ate bet­ter terms for mem­bers in a time when “la­bor is los­ing on an epic scale,” as au­to­ma­tion re­places hu­man work­ers.

“Right now they know you can’t go months without a salary,” Yang said.

New York Mayor Bill de Bla­sio pro­posed re­vers­ing fed­eral tax in­cen­tives for com­pa­nies that au­to­mate work sites.

“Make them pay for it. A ro­bot tax,” de Bla­sio said.

Bil­lion­aire ac­tivist Tom Steyer de­cried what he called a “40-year war on or­ga­nized la­bor, start­ing with Ron­ald Rea­gan.”

He cited a “red state game plan” where con­ser­va­tives cut taxes and ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing while at­tack­ing or­ga­nized la­bor.” Like other can­di­dates, he pledged to make it eas­ier to union­ize work­places.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Min­nesota ac­cused Trump of mak­ing big prom­ises in 2016 to unions on in­fras­truc­ture fund­ing that he did not keep and knocked him for blam­ing oth­ers when plant closings harm work­ers or tar­iffs hurt farm­ers.

“We don’t need a whiner in the White House,” she said. “Peo­ple don’t need some­one who is whin­ing all the time be­cause I know their lives are harder than Don­ald Trump’s”

Philadel­phia AFL-CIO Pres­i­dent Pat Eid­ing opened Tues­day’s event by urg­ing union mem­bers to im­me­di­ately tune into pres­i­den­tial pol­i­tics to learn about the can­di­dates and is­sues.

“Not Jan­uary. Not after the pri­mary. But right now,” Eid­ing said.

Tues­day’s event grew out of con­cern Eid­ing ex­pressed in May in a meet­ing of lo­cal union lead­ers after Bi­den for­mally an­nounced his can­di­dacy with a rally at a union hall in Pitts­burgh, fol­lowed by a fundraiser at the Philadel­phia home of Com­cast Ex­ec­u­tive Vice Pres­i­dent David L. Cohen.

Eid­ing said then “this whole Joe Bi­den thing kind of dis­turbs me a lit­tle bit,” re­fer­ring to an early groundswel­l of sup­port for the new can­di­date with the best name recog­ni­tion, who quickly be­came the party’s front-run­ner. He noted at the time union sup­port was as im­por­tant as deep-pock­eted donors.

Bi­den ex­ac­er­bated the con­cern by drag­ging his feet on com­mit­ting to ap­pear at Tues­day’s event.

He wanted a stand-alone meet­ing with the union mem­bers, which was de­nied.

Eid­ing also ex­pressed con­cerns that nearly 200,000 union mem­bers in his coun­cil sup­ported Trump in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, say­ing they were “fooled by his mes­sage.”

The Co­op­er­a­tive Con­gres­sional Elec­tion Study, car­ried out by a con­sor­tium of 99 uni­ver­si­ties, es­ti­mated that about 38% of union mem­bers na­tion­ally voted for Trump four years ago, based on its post-elec­tion polling.

The na­tional AFL-CIO, with more than 12 mil­lion mem­bers, backed Hil­lary Clin­ton for pres­i­dent in 2016, though Trump drew a siz­able vote from the ranks.

The na­tional AFL-CIO on Thurs­day said it will hold a can­di­date fo­rum next spring to “en­sure mem­bers have the op­por­tu­nity to meet and as­sess” their choices for pres­i­dent. Na­tional Pres­i­dent Richard Trumka, while pub­licly is­su­ing a ques­tion­naire for the can­di­dates, de­clared “the la­bor move­ment is en­ter­ing this process with a higher bar than ever be­fore.”

ABEL URIBE/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE

Pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and for­mer Vice-Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den.

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