CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Six leading U.S. presidential contenders shared their views with more than 700 Teamster members and retirees here on Saturday about pension reform, expanding collective bargaining rights and other top issues that matter most to hardworking Americans.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, investor and activist Tom Steyer and Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont all participated in the Teamsters Vote 2020 Presidential Forum, which was co-sponsored by The Guardian and the Storm Lake (Iowa) Times newspapers. There, they argued why they would be the best choice for workers to become the nation’s next chief executive.
Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said it is essential that candidates make it clear they are standing up for the middle class.
“We want to hear about the issues. We’re Teamsters, and we vote,” he said. “They’ve got to get our vote. That’s what this is about.”
Union members and retirees on hand for the forum said they came to the event because they wanted more clarity on the vision those seeking the presidency have to help working Americans.
Mark Nice, a retired member of Local 200 and a member of the Wisconsin Committee to Protect Pensions, rode a bus four hours from the Badger State with 25 others to hear what the candidates have to say about boosting pensions.
“We want to hear the candidates’ stances particularly on the pension issue,” he said. “We want to know where they are on the issues that affect us, and that goes for those still working as well. We want to know what their plan is for us.”
Local 104 Principal Officer Karla Schumann came all the way from Arizona to attend the forum. She said her members are most concerned about making sure their union rights are protected.
“What’s super important to us to hear from the candidates about the workers’ issues,” she said. “Our members want to know about the stances of the candidates on collective bargaining and strengthening unions, whether it’s health and safety or health care or workers’ rights on the job.”
Discussions about boosting pensions and improving collective bargaining were front-and-center at the event.
Biden, addressing the crowd, said he understands the importance of pensions because his own dad lost his pension. He said under a Biden administration, he’d order the U.S. Treasury Department to issue one percent loans for plans that are faltering.
“These multi-employer pensions is the only way that works for many unions, like the Teamsters,” he said. He told Teamsters, “When labor is strong, you keep the barbarians at the gate.”
Sen. Booker, asked about boosting pensions, noted he is a co-sponsor of the Teamsters-backed Butch Lewis Act. “We made a promise, he said. “It is something we should go to the mat for, and I will if elected president of the United States.”
Sen. Klobuchar noted the importance of unions in her family, as her grandfather was a former Teamster and her parents were both represented by unions. She said pensions are the backbone of those contracts and should be honored.
“I believe promises made should be promises kept,” she said, noting she voted against a 2014 omnibus funding bill that included a provision that allowed pensions to be cut by as much as 70 percent. “We must ensure that people have their pensions, and that includes the Central States Pension Fund.”
Mayor Buttigieg said more has to be done to improve the lives of workers. Worker struggles, he said, are “the result of policy decisions, beginning in the Reagan era, that disempowered workers.” He recommended ending the Taft-Hartley Act and banning so-called right to work as a way to empower unions.
Steyer said there is a need to put a check on corporate power, and that is something strong unions will do. “We need to fight back against this 40-year war on workers,” he said. “Corporations are not people. It’s ridiculous.”
And Sen. Sanders said increasing union density through legislation like he is offering would make a real difference. “For me, being pro-worker and pro-union is not a new idea. I didn’t poll test it. If elected, we will have a workers’ government in Washington, D.C.”
The Teamsters’ presidential forum followed a commitment made by the union to get involved early in the 2020 election process. Members have volunteered for trainings and hit the campaign trail all across the country to get presidential contenders on the record about what they will do to fix pensions, strengthen collective bargaining and ensure fair trade.
The Teamsters have also gotten seven current presidential candidates thus far to sign a pledge promising to address those issues. And the union has built a website — www.teamstersvote.com — where people can go and get answers directly from the mouths of the candidates themselves.
Teamster members can’t be easily won. Their voices, and the voices of all American workers, must be heard. That is why the union has asked all of the candidates, Democrats and Republicans, to make several serious commitments to receive endorsement consideration.
Besides signing a pledge, the Teamsters are asking candidates to sit down for an interview to address supporting legislation that protects pensions and retirement security, strengthens the ability of workers to join a union and establishes a new trade policy that protects working people. Eight current Democratic presidential candidates have already done so.
It is not enough for candidates just to say that they stand with working people. The Teamsters have invited them to join the union in action fighting on the front lines. The union has asked all candidates to partner with us in support of workers, whether at a strike line, an organizing committee meeting or any other true show of solidarity.
Candidates who fulfill all the requirements will be eligible to receive the Teamsters’ support. Ahead of a union endorsement, the union leadership will poll membership and survey local union leadership. From there, the General Executive Board, at the recommendation of the general president will, or will not, make an endorsement.