On Labor Day in Iowa, 2020 Democrats pledge support for unions

As 2020 Democrats court union endorsements, five presidential hopefuls headed to eastern Iowa to make their case one-on-one at labor picnics.


Ryan Adams

Former Vice President Joe Biden shakes the hand of an attendee while moving towards his campaign tent during the Iowa City Federation of Labor Labor Day Picnic in City Park on September 2, 2019. Among the candidates to attend the event were Sen. Michael Bennet and Former Vice President Joe Biden. (Ryan Adams/ The Daily Iowan)

Democratic presidential hopefuls flocked to Iowa Monday to show support on Labor Day for union members and pitch their plans to increase wages and invest in working-class families.

“You figured out here in Iowa the Legislature and governor is really trying to crush you,” Biden said at City Park in Iowa City. “The idea [of] collective bargaining not being an absolute right is absolutely wrong.”

Five candidates shook hands, ate bratwursts, shared beers, and took selfies with attendees at the Cedar Rapids Labor Day picnic hosted by the Hawkeye Labor Council, with both Biden and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., going on to Iowa City.

South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg puts sauerkraut on a bratwurst at the Hawkeye Labor Council Picnic at Hawkeye Downs Sept. 2.

Democratic presidential hopefuls are heavily courting unions’ endorsements. Although in the last few decades, unions have tended to favor Democrats, in 2016, 43 percent of union-household voters voted to elect Donald Trump as president. 

Biden told reporters that as president, he wants to raise the minimum wage of workers who are considered management, which would require companies to pay more workers overtime. 

“There’s a whole range of other things … but it’s all designed to suppress wages… increase stock prices, and benefit the very wealthy,” Biden told reporters in Cedar Rapids.

Mandy Martens, of Cedar Rapids, said she’s leaning toward Biden because of his past demonstration of support for unions and because she believes he would be well-respected throughout the world. 

“He’s got the experience, he’s been there, he’s talked to those people, they know him, they respect him,” she said of Biden visiting foreign dignitaries as vice president.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., emphasized her family’s history being involved with unions — her father was a member of the Newspaper Guild, her mother was part of a teacher’s union, and her grandfather was a mine worker.

“Today is about respecting our workers, and thanking them for their work,” Klobuchar said.
“But it’s not just one day, it should be every single day.”

All of the five candidates who visited eastern Iowa for Labor Day weekend — Bennet, Biden, Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, have positioned themselves as more moderate candidates who are able to win over independent and conservative voters to build a coalition against President Trump.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., answers questions from reporters at the Hawkeye Labor Council Picnic at Hawkeye Downs Sept. 2.

Jay Larson, a leader on the Hawkeye Area Labor Council, said although he’s waiting for the endorsement of the national union to pledge his support, health care was a key topic for him when talking to candidates. He said his union prefers to keep their own negotiated health-care plans, rather than eliminate all other types of insurance coverage in favor of a government-run health care system.

In speeches in Iowa City, both Bennet and Biden condemned Trump for breaking promises to working people and for implementing policies that benefit wealthy Americans.

Mauro Heck, a union member and public-school bus driver, said he likes the labor plans of Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, because he said he feels like they relate better to working-class families.

“I think we need something more radical — something more [than] the standard stuff,” Heck said at the picnic in Iowa City. “I mean, Biden did a lot of great work, but his time has passed, and we need some new fresh-blood thinking and new ways.” 

Bennet, who has been critical of Medicare-for-All, told reporters on Sunday in Cedar Rapids that his labor plan would drastically increase the income- and child-tax credit, implement paid-family leave, and raise the minimum wage in some parts of the country. He said a $15 minimum wage could hurt some small businesses in rural parts of the country, but doesn’t have a plan for which areas of the country would see that minimum-wage increase.

Liam Bogs (7) of Cedar Rapids teaches Sen. Michael Bennet, D-CO, during the Hawkeye Area Labor Council Picnic at Hawkeye Downs on Monday, September 2, 2019.

“I think those four things together would create an enormous difference to work with people in this country, and give us the opportunity to actually get something passed, because those are all ideas that I think are broadly supported by the American people,” Bennet said on Sept. 1.

Bennet said he does not know how he will decide what parts of the country get a raised minimum wage. Bennet has attacked candidates such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and told reporters on Monday that he offers a less ideological view to labor policies.

Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Biden, Bennet and Bullock attended the Labor Day picnic in Cedar Rapids. Biden and Bennet later made their way to Iowa City. 

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