Thursday, July 25, 2024
HomeUS NewsPorter, Schiff and Lee each make the case they're the most labor-friendly...

Porter, Schiff and Lee each make the case they’re the most labor-friendly Senate candidate

After the three top Democrats running for U.S. Senate fielded questions from union leaders for an hour Sunday evening, California Labor Federation executive secretary-treasurer Lorena Gonzalez told the standing-room crowd the choice of who to support to replace Sen. Dianne Feinstein is going to be difficult.

The appearance was was the first time Reps. Barbara Lee of Oakland), Katie Porter of Irvine and Adam Schiff of Burbank have appeared together since launching their 2024 senate campaigns, underscoring just how essential union support will be in California’s primary next year.

The crowd gathered inside a Sheraton Grand ballroom just blocks from the state Capitol heard little difference among the candidate on their positions on support for workers’ rights, favoring project labor agreements in federal spending deals and their desire for government to more forcefully push back on industry consolidation and automation in everything from grocery stores to steel mills.

“We have an embarrassment of riches here,” Gonzalez said twice while onstage with the three candidates.

The California Labor Federation is an umbrella group for about 1,200 unions who represent about 2 million workers in both the public and private sector. Last year it appointed Gonzalez, a former state assemblywoman, as its new leader. She replaced longtime executive secretary-treasurer Art Pulaski.

Gonzalez and her with a nearly 50-member executive council made up of the heads of labor councils and unions across the state. These group form a potent organizing force in state politics. Their endorsement is coveted because it’s accompanied by the federation’s ample financial and organizing power to help candidates.

She said the federation’s endorsement decision won’t come until later in the year after their executive board meets.

Still, the conversation was an opportunity for each of the candidates to burnish their labor bona fides. Each has sought to talk up their ties to unions and tout union endorsements they had already secured.

In March, the Building and Construction Trades Council of Alameda County endorsed Lee —garnering support from 40,000 workers who make up the membership of 28 affiliated unions in Lee’s current congressional district. She also has been endorsed by labor icon Dolores Huerta, who co-founded the United Farm Workers union nearly 60 years ago.

One of Gonzalez’s first big moves last year was to bring the farmworkers into the Labor Federation after leaving the umbrella group in 2006.

The three candidates were asked when they first stood on a picket line, and Lee, 76, recalled standing in solidarity with dockworkers from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in the 1970s during protests against apartheid in South Africa.

At one point, Lee likened the transition from fossil fuels to green energy and how its affecting workers to the time when the federal government shut down military bases across the country.

“We have to do it in a way that reduces anxiety among workers,” she said — adding that the federal government must fine ways to re-train workers and secure them jobs that are sustainable well into the future.

Schiff agreed, saying that there must “guaranteed income for people affected by those disruptions in the workforce.”

This moment drew a sharp retort from Porter.

“One thing Washington is full of is buzzwords,” Porter said, adding that the green economy can’t result simply in union contracts where people receive a $15-an-hour job. Federal investment in green industries such as solar panels, she said, must come with protections for workers to ensure union labor is used and people aren’t taken advantage of by employers.

“So I want to push back a little bit on this idea of a just transition and have some plain talk about what that means. … It’s not enough to talk about a just transition. You have to make sure you build it into each and every one of our tax dollars that we spend,” said Porter, who brought Gonzalez as her guest to the State of Union address this year.

The candidates were asked about the toughest moment they experienced standing with labor.

Schiff said it could be hard sometimes to make the case to large employers or constituents why it’s important to stand with labor groups. He joined the picket line during a recent strike by thousands of support workers in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“You’ve got thousands and thousands of parents who suddenly have to figure out what to do with their kid and they’re asking why are you supporting the strike,” he said.

“Because it’s the right thing to do.”

This got applause from the standing-room-only ballroom.

Porter followed by noting she had never taken campaign donations from corporate super-PACs — political action committees — something Schiff has done in the past even though he’s promised not to in the Senate campaign.

Both her and Schiff have been vocal supporters of the recent writers’ strike here in Hollywood — with the Irvine congresswoman tweeting her solidarity by saying: “All workers should be compensated fairly, including in a changing economy.”

Schiff said in a statement that the fight by the Writers Guild of America “for better pay and wage protections in the era of streaming content is vital to ensuring the livelihood of those who make the entertainment industry such a creative powerhouse.”

Lee said she hoped to join the picket line the next time she was in Los Angeles.

The trio have been big backers of legislation in Congress to expand labor protections. The Protecting the Right to Organize Act has made it out of the House of Representatives but died in the Senate in the last two congressional sessions. It was reintroduced in February, with Porter, Schiff and Lee as co-sponsors.

During the event, all three said finding ways to pass this legislation would be a priority.

Afterward, Bill Shaver, political director for the Sheet Metal Workers Local 105 based in Los Angeles, said that hearing from the three candidates had made a tough decision even more difficult.

“The hard part for us in the labor movement is that we have three friends. Which friend do we vote for? Which friend do we back?” Shaver said.

He said it’s hard at this point to imagine that all of member unions in the California Federation of Labor will support the same candidate because they have relationships with each of them.

“Organized labor is fractured, we are split on who to support,” Shaver said. “So that’s the dilemma we have, of where we’re all from. We all have our own connection with those candidates. So it’s going to be difficult.”

This story originally appeared on LA Times

- Advertisment -

Most Popular

Recent Comments