Monday, April 8, 2019 | 1:20 p.m.
Presidential hopefuls Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., spoke in Las Vegas today before members of the International Association of Machinists and Aeorospace Workers about their platforms for the 2020 election and their support for the nation's unions.
Approximately 800 delegates from the International Association of Machinists, the largest airline and rail labor union in the country, attended the event at the Paris as part of the 2019 IAM Transportation Conference. The union will endorse a candidate for president after hearing from contenders “often” in the coming months, officials said.
While Klobuchar and Sanders both emphasized their support for the union and its members, called for higher wages for workers and touted their pro-union backgrounds, key differences emerged between their speeches.
Klobuchar, who is known as one of the most prolific enactors of legislation in Washington, described policies she has proposed or will propose to reduce the influence of corporations in politics and support working families. Sanders, who ran for president in 2016 but lost the Democratic nomination to Hillary Clinton, shared his policy proposals to strengthen unions and reduce income inequality in the country.
Chief of Staff to the International President of IAM Owen E. Herrnstadt introduced Klobuchar, describing her as an old friend and a longtime advocate of unions, with a record of turning words into action.
“Since taking office in 2007, Amy has been a fearless fighter on behalf of working Americans,” Herrnstadt said.
Klobuchar, 58, began by discussing her personal ties to unions, as the Minnesota senator was raised in a family of union workers. She went on to praise the union for standing up for its members and Americans in times of crisis.
“You are not just the backbone of our workforce, you are the backbone of our country,” she said.
Klobuchar promised she would improve transportation infrastructure, particularly rail infrastructure, address the high price of drugs and medications, raise the federal minimum wage, improve pension plans for workers and ensure fair competition across industries, including oligopolies such as the airline industry.
She also took jabs at President Donald Trump for his economic policies, which she said benefit the wealthy and corporations at the expense of the working class, and his role in the longest government shutdown in U.S. history in December 2018 and January 2019.
“We should never hold our federal employees and the employees of federal contractors hostage,” she said. “That’s why as president, I’ll fight to guarantee back-pay to our federal workers during the government shutdown.”
Prior to introducing Sanders, union officials played a video tracing the Vermont senator’s decades-long advocacy for unions. In introducing Sanders, IAM Transportation General Vice President Sito Pantoja described the candidate as unwavering in his advocacy for workers.
“I have the distinct honor today and privilege to introduce to you a person who has been for working people all his life, for workers’ rights,” Pantoja said. “He’s never once failed to the calling of this union. He’s walked the picket lines with us.”
Sanders’ speech highlighted and denounced income inequality in the United States, a major issue he raised during his 2016 campaign for president. He described strong unions as key to ensuring that the wealthiest Americans and corporations “pay their fair share.”
“It is not only immoral, but it is bad economics when the United States has the most unequal distribution of wealth and income of almost any major country on earth,” said Sanders, 77.
In addition, Sanders called for the establishment of Medicare for all, a proposal for a universal, single-payer healthcare system that he introduced in 2017 and which has since garnered support from some other Democratic presidential hopefuls. Sanders also vocalized his support for a $15 minimum wage “at least,” a stronger progressive tax system, equal pay for women and the expansion of unions’ bargaining powers.
He concluded by contrasting his campaign with those of Trump and other Republicans, who he said have sought to divide Americans along lines of class, race, gender and geography.
“Our campaign and our government are going to be doing the opposite. We are going to bring the American people together: Black, white and Latino, gay and straight, native-born and immigrant. No matter what your religion is. We come together,” Sanders said.
When IAM endorses one of the more than 15 candidates running for president in 2020, the union will look for someone who supports trade policies that benefit U.S. workers, strengthening the right to join a union, better retirement security for workers and health care for all Americans, said IAM International President Robert Martinez Jr. During the last presidential election, the union endorsed Clinton.
“I want to thank Sens. Klobuchar and Sanders for speaking to our membership, who will be driving the IAM’s endorsement process,” Martinez said. “Our members are the backbone of our economy and care most about keeping and growing good union jobs here at home.”