When a heckler yelled, "You're a bitch!" At Vermont late. Bernie Sanders at the Philadelphia AFL-CIO's first presidential summit ever on Tuesday roared the entire room back with songs from the senator's name.
This was the most charged moment of a day with presidential candidates turning up union members, including steel workers, plasterers, communications workers, school cafeteria staff and airline food workers. Within four hours, they heard from former Vice President Joe Biden, Founder and Technical Director Andrew Yang, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, Sanders, the largest Democratic donor and billionaire Tom Steyer, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. [1[ads1]9659002] Despite the best efforts of the candidates, the mood among the 2000 voters was one of the general deficient counter-democrats in the presidential election, and the six challengers who had met to try to win their votes. Especially missed the front runner late. Elizabeth Warren from the forum the day after she won approval from the Working Families Party.
Some union members and participants expressed support for Sanders and Biden, but most workers said they did not know who they would vote for, even when they expressed dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump. Some said they were not sure why they were at the summit – the first of their kind – but had been told by their unions that attendance was mandatory. A trade union said that although it was important for members to participate, there were no consequences for not going.
Photos: Hannah Yoon for The Intercept
Pennsylvania is heavy on Democrats' minds as the party seeks to develop a strategy to take back Trump's state won by 44,000 votes in 2016. Several union members and leaders point to Trump's broken laws to reviving failing industries, regaining jobs and putting more money in the pockets of workers. For example, Trump's signature tax cut came up several times in interviews on the forum, with people sharing personal stories about losing money under them.
Biden, who first spoke, drew cheer from the crowd for his working class. growing up and his track record of having "never stepped up" for unions, and criticized the company's greed and falling wages. He talked about plans to reform the tax code for the benefit of working families. “Folks, we can do without Wall Street. Wall Street didn't build America, ”he said to applause. He sometimes talked into long-winded anecdotes as he illustrated how companies continue to benefit from working people, and his points don't always land.
Sanders used most of his openings to engage in political ideas and received the highest cheer from the audience, but his ideas did not fit well with everyone in the crowd. He framed his message as an invitation to continue to build the worker-focused movement he has organized for decades, reminding, like Biden, participants of how long he has been an ally.
Photos: Hannah Yoon for The Intercept
Photos: Hannah Yoon for The Intercept
While the workers and organizers were not necessarily set on which candidate to support, they were clear on the questions it matters to them and what they want to see change from the 2016 election, when many individuals cast their votes for candidates other than their unions were officially supported.
Jerry Hardy, systems engineer with Verizon and a union member with Communications Workers of America for 31 years, said he liked both Biden and Sanders.
"I mean, I vote for one of them anyway," Hardy said, referring to the field of Democratic candidates. "I'm not voting for the other guy." Hardy said he wanted to hear the candidates' plans to reverse everything Trump had done, and said he thought climate was an issue that needed more attention. "Trump's tax plan cost me about $ 7,000 a year," he said. "But I didn't mind paying extra tax if the deficit goes down. But it goes up. Which type is confusing to me."
Hardy said that being a part of the union had helped him get four daughters through college, and that he was concerned about access to social security and the opportunity to retire during a recession, saying he voted for Sanders in the 2016 primary because the senator had been on their picket line four times as they strike for more than 40 days in 2016. "I really don't know how to pay for any of his plans. But, you know, he lined up for us when we needed him, so I lined up for him."
Mark Storti, a 25 The plasterer from Ridley, Pennsylvania, said that attending the forum was mandatory for his local 1955 union. Storti said he liked the former vice president, but Anthony Collins, a 23-year-old from Blackwood, New Jersey, in the same union as Storti, was not so sure "I like him, he's the man," Storti said, laughing. "And he supports the unions and all that, you know, with the taxes and everything else obviously."
Chris Fiegel, a 42-year-old organizer of District Council No. 21's International Union of Painters and Allied Trades, which includes Stortis and Collins union, was similarly not determined.
"It's probably Yang or Biden," Fiegel said, pausing to think. "Bernie is a little too one-way," he said, suggesting that Biden would probably have a bigger appeal. “For me, it should be who is the best candidate to beat Trump. That's what it comes down to, "he explained.
Fiegel was not sold on proposals popularized by Sanders, like debt-free college. "There are Republicans, and then there are guys like me, I think they meet in the middle, and people I know and guys I work with," he explained.
Collins did not feel strongly about any candidate, but was animated on the subject. of paying for education. "I don't know. I feel like if you legalize marijuana, as Canada has done, you can get enough money to do college for free," Collins said. Fiegel disagreed. "I don't think it should be free, but I think it should be much more affordable," Fiegel said.
Longtime Philadelphia journalist Vernon Odom introduced Sanders as a "longtime friend of organized labor." After a brief review of his history of organizing, standing in fence lines and helping workers at Amazon and Disney get a $ 15 minimum wage, Sanders made a thinly veiled jab at Biden, saying he would not focus on the past, but pointed out that unlike "some of the people who are fighting for president," he did not vote for the Iraq war, to bail out Wall Street or "disastrous trade policy" like NAFTA.
His goal, Sanders said, was to get Congress to pass a federal $ 15 minimum wage, do business schools and public colleges and universities without tuition fees, cancel student debt, tax speculation on Wall Street and transfer energy systems away from fossil fuels. It was Sanders' promise to guarantee health care as a human right, but it seemed to get the greatest applause.
Sanders' positions on health care resonated with Fatoumata Kaba, a Union Shop Steward at LSG Sky Chefs who prepares food served at the airlines. "Mainly, there's a question in my store," she said. She said she was happy with what both Sanders and De Blasio said on the forum because they both talked about the $ 15 minimum wage, a question she wanted to hear more about from other candidates.
Still, she was not entirely happy with Sander's appearance. In June, members of Kaba's union, the 3,000-member Unite Here Local 274, voted to strike for better pay and available and affordable health care, joining tens of thousands of other food service workers across the country. In response to a question from one of Kaba's employees about Sanders wanting to help them secure relief from the National Mediation Council to strike, he said yes, and turned to discussing the health care system and taking on drug companies.
Kevin Boyle, business manager for Ironworkers Local 401, was clear that his union, which has 700 active members, is nowhere near a decision to support a candidate. The union backed Clinton in 2016, but many members "voted for Trump, I hate to say," Boyle said.
Trump's populist message resonated with these members, and the union is now trying to educate them on how Trump's policies have affected them. "What is he doing for your paycheck and on the bottom line? Well, he's cutting pensions, he's cutting your salary," Boyle said.
"I think we should sit down and listen and let the presidential candidates come to labor and working families and ask us for our vote, instead of assuming that we are going to vote for them," he said, noting that the candidates did not take the case for their members in 2016. "We are one of the East Coast strongholds, one of the nation's strongholds. I think you should be here in Philadelphia to ask for employee assistance in everything you do to promote working families. "