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15 Presidential Candidates Address Iowa Labor Leaders

bernie sanders
Katarina Sostaric
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders was among the candidates speaking at the Iowa Federation of Labor conference in Altoona.

Fifteen Democrats running for president talked up their support for organized labor at an annual meeting of union leaders near Des Moines Wednesday.

In turn, they’re trying to win the support of union workers, who voted for the Democratic candidate in the 2016 presidential election by a smaller margin than any other time in the past three decades.

“Our challenge next November is to defeat a president who said to workers he’d have your back, then embraced one of the most anti-worker agendas in 80 years,” Montana Gov. Steve Bullock said. “An agenda that prioritizes special interests over workers’ interests. An agenda that widens income inequality levels never seen in my time.”

Many candidates started their speeches at the Iowa Federation of Labor conference by describing their family connections to labor unions.

“I stand before you today because of unions,” Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar said. “I stand before you today as a granddaughter of a union iron ore miner, as a daughter of a union newspaperman, as a daughter of union teacher, as the first woman elected to the U.S. Senate from the state of Minnesota, and as a candidate for president of the United States.”

Klobuchar said unions are about the idea that no matter where people come from, they can make it in the U.S.

Several presidential candidates said there has been an ongoing attack on organized labor, and some specifically mentioned changes to Iowa collective bargaining and workers’ compensation laws.

In 2017, when Republicans took control of the Iowa Legislature, they severely limited the collective bargaining rights of most public workers in the state, and reduced workers’ compensation benefits, especially for shoulder injuries.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said as part of his new pro-union plan, he will make sure all public employees can bargain collectively.

“Not only for decent wages but for decent benefits, safe working conditions and reliable schedules,” Sanders said. “In other words, we will essentially repeal the disastrous chapter 20 law that took away those rights in Iowa by a Republican governor and that legislature.”

Candidates also talked about making it easier for workers to form unions, blocking “right to work” laws in the states, raising the minimum wage, and allowing gig workers to join unions.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter