Five Democratic presidential hopefuls spoke during a union summit in downtown Los Angeles Friday, preaching their support for organized labor and praising the historical significance of unions.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, California Sen. Kamala Harris, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker spoke at the first day of at the event at the Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites.
Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg are set to speak Saturday.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was scheduled to participate in the event, but withdrew following his emergency surgery earlier this week due to a clogged artery.
Sponsored by the Service Employees International Union, the summit was billed as an effort to impress upon the presidential hopefuls the importance of unions. Candidates from the first day fielded similar questions from different people that were related to union workers’ financial welfare, child care and health care.
Harris told the crowd she is working on a national policy to ensure employees have access to collective bargaining rights. She said workers who have to negotiate with corporations need support when seeking new labor agreements.
“We need to have protections so you can unionize and participate in collective bargaining, but we have to do it sector by sector,” Harris said. “`Nobody should be made to fight alone.”
Biden wrapped up his 30 minutes by talking about health care access and his plan to keep people insured.
“I’ll make you a commitment, I will protect your right to health care as if it were (for) my own family,” Biden said. “I’ll commit to you, if I am elected president, that this will be one of my most significant priorities, and everyone deserves the ability to provide for their kids.”
Biden said service industry workers such as home-care workers, nurses and other health care professionals are not paid nearly enough. He said his health care policies support public and private insurance plans, in contrast with Sanders, who wants all of it paid for by the government.
Warren spoke about her own experiences of not having union protection, discussing how she was fired decades ago from a special education job because she was visibly pregnant.
“Unions built America’s middle class,” Warren said. “I’ve seen up close and personal just how important (a) union is.”
The Massachusetts senator said increasing enforcement of antitrust laws would help prevent corporations from becoming too large. Creating easier paths to unionizing can also help balance powers between employees and employers, Warren said.
Castro said he would propose creating an inheritance tax that would apply to people who inherit “wealth” and a wealth inequality tax applied to people who make more than $40 million a year. With that money, Castro said he would create a “universal” child care fund, and the most people would have pay is 7% of their paycheck for such services.
“A year of child care can cost as much as a year of college, which is ridiculous. Families cannot afford that,” Castro said.
The former HUD secretary also said he would support legislative efforts to make it easier for workers to unionize and create transparency measures in labor negotiations.
Booker said the country is in a hypocritical state of labor appreciation, as many sectors praise their workforce but then don’t pay them enough.
“Efforts that are going on from the right-to-work states … and they stop your ability to organize, and that is absolutely wrong,” Booker said.
Booker said the decline in union participation and the increasing wage gaps between executives and laborers need to be reversed, and that service industry professionals should have their student loan debts forgiven.
A spokeswoman for the Trump Victory committee issued a statement blasting the Democratic candidates for their positions regarding organized labor.
“This crop of 2020 Democrats can act like they are pro-worker, but in reality, they are anything but,” Samantha Zager said. “Whether they are hurting union through a proposed government takeover of healthcare, embracing the Green New Deal or supporting an impeachment inquiry of a president who has consistently delivered for the American worker, Democrats are bad for business.”
The appearances by the Democratic presidential hopefuls came a day after a new Public Policy Institute of California survey found Warren, Sanders and Biden in a statistical three-way tie in California. The survey showed the trio with support of 23%, 22% and 21% of likely primary voters, respectively.
Harris was a distant fourth at 8%, followed by Buttigieg with 6%.