Presidential Hopefuls Speak to Laborer’s Union in Chicago Today

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This morning from 8:00 to 11:00 a.m. at the Chicago Sheraton Hotel & Towers, the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA) is hosting a live webcast for four Democratic presidential candidates to speak directly to union members from LiUNA’s annual Leadership Conference. The webcast feed is available at LiUNA Live.

Scheduled for the webcast are senators Joseph Biden, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. (Unfortunately our very own Senator Barack Obama has decided to drop out of the webcast–even though the Sheraton is a mere half-mile from his Loop campaign office).

Rank-and-file LiUNA members are looking for a “Build America” candidate – someone who will put workers’ everyday issues first, such as the creation of good, family-supporting jobs, a commitment to rebuilding our country’s infrastructure, the right to join together in a union, and trade that is fair to all.

As the morning progresses, I’ll be live blogging from the press pit directly from the event. More to follow as the event gets underway…

[Yep, no WiFi. Blogging by iPhone.]

7:56 am- The event is underway with a short campaign commercial from Hillary Clinton. Apparently, all four candidates have “provided” LiUNA with a video blurb by way of introduction. No surprises, an “all polls, no pulse commercial. Hopefully she’ll have substantive comments.

8:01 am- Clinton is introduced by LiUNU general president Terrence M. O’Sullivan as the only candidate with a comprehensive infrastructure plan and is greeted with a standing ovation. Big props to O’Sullivan for previous support in NY. Four minutes in, still nothing substantive.

8:05- Clinton promises “quality, affordable healthcare for all citizens,” as a “right, not a privilege.” Waiting for details. Still waiting. Waxing pro-worker, “if we don’t get back to a strong union movement in America, we won’t build the middle class.”

8:09am- Clinton announces support for a “second-responder” health database for 9/11 responders. Which still adds no details about her healthcare plan. Descends into Bush-bashing. Which still says nothing about Clinton’s healthcare plan. I’m glad to know what annoys her about the practices of others, I’d like to hear what she’s gonna do.

8:15- Clinton promises to pass Employee Free Choice Act, “I’ll sign it when I’m President,” appoint labor-friendly members to the NLRB, and never waive the Davis-Bacon law. (Talk about buried leads.)

8:24- Healthcare plan to be unveiled in Iowa later today. (Don’t union members deserve to hear now?) “We’ve got to get beyond rhetoric to results.” Does she actually listen to the things she says?

8:30- O’Sullivan introduces Mayor Daley, thanks him for letting Clinton bump him down the schedule (boy, she has connections). Daley gives customary union props, while several media members leave. Apparently, some members of the mainstream media think the election is a foregone conclusion.

8:55- Other candidates announced as running late to the event. With Obama having bagged the event, a supportive message is not being sent to America’s laborers here.

9:21- Still waiting, while union growth stars continue to be announced in the interim. I hate to say it, but a good way to lose an audience is to not group your big-name speakers altogether… and to not offer the media free coffee at 7 in the morning. The ranks on the media platforms are steadily thinning. As for the AP stringer sitting next to me, three words: cell phone Sudoku.

9:31- John Edwards commercial–this bodes well. Organized labor as the best tool for strengthening the middle class. Support for EFCA, “and I’m not afraid to say it anytime, anywhere.”

9:35- Edwards introduced as only 2004 candidate not afraid to say the word “union”. I don’t think he spit out his gum as he begins– that’s skill. Says wife Elizabeth is doing fine. Says union cause is not political, it is personal. The organized labor movement built the middle class in the first place. “I want to be the President who’s responsible for the greatest union growth in America.”

Says has walked picket lines, organized, called out employers, and will not support unions just when it is safe and “political” but when it is hard to do so. Identifies organizing as the most important union effort. Called for funding of infrastructure inspections and renovations, to be done with union jobs (the Davis-Bacon issue again.)

9:45- Edwards says nothing can be achieved for labor and healthcare without systemic changes in Washington, especially including campaign financing and lobbying reform. First candidate to announce a health care plan seven months ago. Fourteen years ago, “We needed a healthcare plan, we got NAFTA.”

9:50- “When are we gonna stand up to these drug companies and insurance companies in Washington?” Called Clinton 7 months late to the game, with no hope to succeed with her healthcare plan without systemic reforms in Washington. Promised to sign a bill on first day as President ending healthcare for Congress, President, and all political appointees until a national healthcare bill is passed. (Oh my…I heard that.)

9:55- The American people told Congress to end the Iraq war and Congress should not back down. Bush “will never changed unless he’s forced to change…This President is at war…with the middle class.”

10:05- Edwards media Q&A…

Edwards said he wasn’t trying to upstage Clinton. Said her healthcare plan said similar to his own plan, but can’t work within the existing system without reform. Said he’s “dead serious” about cutting off healthcare for Congress on his first day in office. “It’s easy to mess around with healthcare…when your job’s not at stake.”

Asked about his stance on the Walmart/big-box wage issue. Said Walmart employment wouldn’t be an issue if we had national healthcare.

10:10- Joe Biden takes the stage. Disrespect permeates the national debate on labor, with the Administration treating labor “like it doesn’t know what it’s doing.” “Government has abandoned its responsibilities to you while profits for insurance companies are skyrocketing.” (Meanwhile, it took five minutes for him to say the word “union.”

10:17- Biden spent several minutes discussing how he felt the pain of a declining middle class “in his gut”, and (I swear) told the crowd if 1,000 union delegates that “you underestimate the importance of unions to the middle class.” Half the media is gone now, while Biden raises his voice in oratory, preaching to the crowd mom-and-pop vignettes a la Clinton. He is utterly serious, almost angry right now, and he’s not saying anything that hasn’t been said in this ballroom for two hours. This is not the Biden who did Bill Maher.

10:25- Biden screws up the name of the Employee Free Choice Act. Proceeds to criticize union for not calling on President strongly enough for not legitimizing the American labor movement. (I can’t believe he keeps criticizing his audience.) Much like Clinton, though, he has essentially said nothing about what he would do in office. This is disappointing–I expected a lot more from him.

On universal healthcare, he actually says, “It’s not the plan, it’s the man.” But he looks tire

10:37- Finally criticizes Iraq war. Good on that, but more false angry oratory. Clinton does the voice-raising preacher bit so much better. Calls for local control in Iraq, instead if centralized control.

10:45- Biden media Q&A…

10:58- Biden cancels Q&A, then mistakenly makes way out directly through media crowd and must battle, tight lipped, to exit. You can’t make that stuff up, folks.

Event is at an ended until Bill Richardson speaks tomorrow morning. (See great coverage of the event in the Trib’s The Swamp political blog).

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