Clinton champions unions on Labor Day

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Clinton champions unions on Labor Day

Hillary Clinton speaks to a group of labor workers at the 49th annual Salute to Labor event in Hampton, Illinois on Monday, September 5, 2016. (The Daily Iowan/Jordan Gale)

Hillary Clinton speaks to a group of labor workers at the 49th annual Salute to Labor event in Hampton, Illinois on Monday, September 5, 2016. (The Daily Iowan/Jordan Gale)

Hillary Clinton speaks to a group of labor workers at the 49th annual Salute to Labor event in Hampton, Illinois on Monday, September 5, 2016. (The Daily Iowan/Jordan Gale)

Hillary Clinton speaks to a group of labor workers at the 49th annual Salute to Labor event in Hampton, Illinois on Monday, September 5, 2016. (The Daily Iowan/Jordan Gale)

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Hillary Clinton assured labor leaders from near and far that she had their backs.

By Mitch McAndrew

[email protected]

For the second year in a row, Hillary Clinton spent her Labor Day supporting labor unions.

The Democratic presidential hopeful voiced her support for organized labor on Monday night to a crowd full of union members and supporters, both local and national, at the 49th-Annual Salute to Labor in the Quad Cities.

Flanked by union leaders and Illinois Democrats, including Illinois Senate candidate Tammy Duckworth and longtime Sen. Dick Durbin, Clinton pledged to defend unions by stymying attempts to roll back collective bargaining, standing up to unfair trade deals such as the TPP, stopping pension cuts, and fighting right-to-work laws.

“Unions helped build the largest middle class in the history of the world in our country,” Clinton told the crowd gathered at the Illiniwek Campground on the banks of the Mississippi River. “They fought for fair wages, safe working conditions — they’ve helped so many people get on that rung to the middle class.”

Labor union royalty joined Clinton at the event — National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García, United Automobile Workers President Dennis Williams, and International Brothers of Electrical Workers President Lonnie Stephenson welcomed the former secretary of State to the labor-centered picnic.

Clinton also called for raising the national minimum wage and ensuring equal pay for women in the workplace.

“I believe in fairness. I don’t want to see anybody treated unfairly and discriminated against,” she said. “I don’t care who you are, if you’re willing to work and do your part, you should be able to get ahead and stay ahead.”

During her roughly 25-minute speech, Clinton described a plan that would rely on infrastructure projects and renewable energy to bring in more jobs — a plan that she emphasized in a visit to Des Moines last month.

Eskelsen García, who heads the country’s largest labor union, said Clinton’s track record as a children’s advocate was instrumental in garnering the NEA’s support.

“She could have done anything in the world, but she chose the Children’s Defense Fund,” Eskelsen García said.

She noted that the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, a bill Clinton co-sponsored in 2009, made it easier for women to challenge their employers over unequal pay. It was highly beneficial to the education field, three-fourths of which is female, Eskelsen García said.

Union members present at the event said that although they reliably vote Democratic, their vote is especially important in this election year.

“[Republican presidential candidate Donald] Trump would be a union buster,” said Dan Ruiz, a retiree and member of Laborers Local 309. “And with no unions, there’s no middle class. There’s the poor and the rich.”

Brett Clark, a union member from Moline, viewed Trump’s plays to working class voters as empty campaign trail promises.

“Hillary has been for the working class for her whole career,” he said. “Trump only cares about making money for himself.”

Clinton attacked Trump’s labor stances in her speech, saying the GOP candidate hired union-busting firms for his business operations and “made a career” of stiffing workers.

She drove this point home by pointing out that her father, a small-business owner, could easily have been a worker who ended up on the wrong side of Trump’s negotiations.

“I am so happy he never got a contract from Donald Trump,” Clinton said.

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