Presidential candidates – but not the leading ones – woo labor at state convention

Democratic presidential candidates at afl-cio convention
Democratic presidential candidates Julián Castro, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar in Las Vegas Aug. 28. Photo by Michael Lyle

This week’s Nevada State AFL-CIO convention attracted five Democratic presidential candidates, compared to 15 who spoke at Iowa’s AFL-CIO convention last week. But a Nevada union leader brushed off suggestions that candidates are overlooking Nevada.

None of the three candidates who have been polling strongest — Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and former Vice-president Joe Biden — came for the Nevada union convention.

Rusty McAllister, the executive secretary-treasurer of the Nevada AFL-CIO, dismissed this week’s comparatively light attendance by candidates.

“That doesn’t include other times they’ve come” to the state, McAllister said.

“I’ve been hosting a large number of candidates in Southern and Northern Nevada to have labor roundtables where affiliate leaders can ask candidates questions directly,” he said. “They (the candidates) are active. They are here. They are aggressively pursuing support.” 

Former U.S. Housing and Urban Development secretary Julián Castro, and U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar spoke on the first day of the convention. New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio and a Biden surrogate were scheduled to speak the second day. 

“Of course we would like to have more candidates come and speak,” McAllister said. “By the time we reached out to their campaigns, (candidates) already had prior obligations.”

He added that earlier this month, 19 candidates spoke at a forum put on by the national American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in Las Vegas.

Unlike last week’s Iowa convention, press was not allowed to attend the candidates’ addresses to Nevada union members and candidates’ remarks were not livestreamed.

State federations are able to host informational events where candidates speak, but the audience must be limited to union members — which also means closed to press,” the AFL-CIO said said in a statement to Nevada Current earlier this week. 

Candidates did speak with the press after their turns addressing the convention. 

Booker said Democrats want a candidate who excites the base and can reach out to the breadth of the Democratic Party. 

“If you look at the leaders who won in the past, they’re not people who are polling ahead this far out,” Booker said, in a apparent reference to Biden, who up until recently has led nearly every poll since entering the race in April, and has been a frequent foil for Booker

“In fact, every person from our party who has gone on to win the presidency has been considered a long shot. But, they were dynamic leaders who were able to energize and inspire the fullness of our base. We saw that in Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.”

Harris, who by some polling is not keeping pace with Biden, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, said the only important poll is “the one on election day.”

Castro acknowledged there might be people benefiting under the current economic climate, but income inequality means far too many more are struggling. The situation, he added, might get worse, as economists expect the U.S. to slip into recession by 2021.

“It wouldn’t be surprising if we did have another recession,” Castro said. “You can’t put someone as erratic and haphazard as Donald Trump in the White House and not expect it doesn’t catch up to you.”

Klobuchar said people who may have supported Trump are starting to see through the president’s broken promises. 

“At some point, people who voted for him, who don’t agree with him, see how he is handling things economically,” she said. “Union members (who supported him) who don’t like that he has never really done an infrastructure package or farmer prices like he promised, they start seeing through it.” 

With Nevada the third state to vote — and the first in the West — as well as the first state in the process with a significant number of union voters, candidates reiterated their commitments to organized labor.

Castro and Harris spoke about the need to counter attacks the Trump Administration has launched against unions. 

“It’s more important than ever that unions are able to organize workers effectively because we’ve seen this growing wealth (inequality) and income inequality,” Castro said. “The Trump Administration has sided with big corporations and against labor unions and workers trying to make sure people get a decent wage so they can provide for their family.”

In her remarks to the convention crowd, which the campaign provided to Nevada Current, Harris promised: “to ban so-called Right to Work laws, strengthen the right to strike, ensure that we have trade policy that is good for workers, ensure that we have a Secretary of Labor who actually understands the dignity of labor and work, fighting together with you around 15/hour minimum wage, and also make sure that we appoint judges to the Supreme Court and other lifetime appointments who will honor the dignity of work by respecting what organized labor needs to do around collective bargaining and around organizing.” 

Klobuchar, who boasted her union roots by citing her parents and grandfather, said even though Trump made promises to unions who supported him last election, he has broken those promises. Union workers “don’t want to see a whiner in the White House,” she said. “The people out there working every day to make a living, who are building our roads and who are serving at the hotels and doing the hard work that builds this nation, they don’t need someone on TV every day whining.” 

Booker also said that whatever the national narrative about Nevada’s importance to the process, the state is important to him, noting again that his mother lives in Las Vegas.

“This is the city where my father died, where my grandma died and where my grandpa died,” Booker said. “When they were going through their troubles, it was the community health workers here that took care of them. It was the community, including Harry Reid, that comforted my mother. This is my home whether I’m president or senator.”

All four of the candidates who spoke to the AFL-CIO Wednesday have qualified for the next presidential debate Sept. 12. They will be joined by Biden, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Sanders, Warren and Andrew Yang.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand was the latest candidate to pull out of the race Wednesday, after she failed to meet Democratic National Committee polling criteria and so did not qualify for the September debate.

Michael Lyle
Michael Lyle (MJ to some) has been a journalist in Las Vegas for eight years.  He started his career at View Neighborhood News, the community edition of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. During his seven years with the R-J, he won several first place awards from the Nevada Press Association and was named its 2011 Journalist of Merit. He left the paper in 2017 and spent a year as a freelance journalist accumulating bylines anywhere from The Washington Post to Desert Companion. While he covers a range of topics from homelessness to the criminal justice system, he gravitates toward stories about race relations and LGBTQ issues. Born and mostly raised in Las Vegas, Lyle graduated from UNLV with a degree in Journalism and Media Studies. He is currently working on his master's in Communications through an online program at Syracuse University. In his spare time, Lyle cooks through Ina Garten recipes in hopes of one day becoming the successor to the Barefoot Contessa throne. When he isn’t cooking (or eating), he also enjoys reading, running and re-watching episodes of “Parks and Recreation.” He is also in the process of learning kickboxing.

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