Porter, Schiff and Lee each plead the case

Nabil Anas
Nabil Anas

Global Courant 2023-05-08 17:00:49

After the top three Democrats running for the U.S. Senate spent an hour answering questions from union leaders on Sunday night, California Labor Federation executive secretary-treasurer Lorena Gonzalez told the crowd in the standings about choosing who they would support to replace Senator Dianne Feinstein. being hard.

The appearance marked the first time Representatives Barbara Lee of Oakland), Katie Porter of Irvine, and Adam Schiff of Burbank have appeared together since the launch of their 2024 Senate campaigns, underlining how essential union support will be in the California primary. next year.

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The crowd gathered in a Sheraton Grand ballroom just steps from the state capitol and heard little difference between the candidates about their stances on support for workers’ rights, support for project labor in federal spending agreements, and their desire for the government to more forcefully support the industry. reducing consolidation and automation in everything from supermarkets to steel mills.

“We’re ashamed of wealth here,” Gonzalez said twice while standing on stage with the three candidates.

The California Labor Federation is an umbrella group of approximately 1,200 labor unions representing approximately 2 million workers in both the public and private sectors. Last year, it named Gonzalez, a former state MP, as its new leader. She replaced longtime executive secretary-treasurer Art Pulaski.

Gonzalez and her team work alongside an executive council of nearly 50 members, made up of the heads of labor councils and unions across the state. This group is a powerful organizing force in state politics. Their approval is coveted because it comes with the federation’s ample financial and organizing power to aid candidates.

She said the federation’s approval decision won’t come until later in the year, after their board of directors meets.

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Still, the interview was an opportunity for each of the candidates to polish their bona fide work. They all tried to talk their ties to unions and tout the union recommendations they had already obtained.

In March, Alameda County’s Building and Construction Trades Council approved Lee – drawing support from 40,000 workers who are members of 28 member unions in Lee’s current congressional district. She is also supported 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 farm workers into the Labor Federation after leaving the umbrella group in 2006.

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

At one point, Lee compared the transition from fossil fuels to green energy and its impact on workers to when the federal government closed military bases across the country.

“We need to do it in a way that reduces worker anxiety,” she said — adding that the federal government needs to find ways to retrain workers and guarantee jobs that are sustainable well into the future.

Schiff agreed, saying there should be “a guaranteed income for people affected by those workforce disruptions.”

This moment provoked a sharp reply from Porter.

“Washington is full of buzzwords,” Porter said, adding that the green economy cannot simply result in union contracts giving people $15 an hour jobs. Federal investments in green industries such as solar panels, she said, should be accompanied by worker protections to ensure unionized labor is used and people are not abused by employers.

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

The candidates were asked about the hardest moment they experienced during childbirth.

Schiff said it can sometimes be difficult to get across to major employers or voters why it’s important to get behind union groups. He joined the picket line during a recent strike by thousands of supporters in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

“You have thousands and thousands of parents who suddenly have to figure out what to do with their child and they ask why you support the strike,” he said.

“Because it’s the right thing to do.”

This received applause from the standing room only ballroom.

Porter continued by noting that she had never accepted campaign donations from corporate super-PACs — political action committees — something Schiff has done in the past, even though he had promised not to do so in the Senate campaign.

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

Schiff said in a rack that the Writers Guild of America’s fight “for better wages and wage protection in the age of streaming content is essential to ensuring the livelihoods of those who make the entertainment industry such a creative powerhouse.”

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

The trio strongly supported legislation in Congress to expand labor protections. The law protecting the right to organize swept it out of the House of Representatives, but died in the Senate in the last two sessions of Congress. It was reintroduced in February, with Porter, Schiff and Lee as co-sponsors.

At the event, all three said it would be a priority to find ways to pass this legislation.

Afterwards, Bill Shaver, political director of the Sheet Metal Workers Local 105 in Los Angeles, said hearing the three candidates made a difficult decision even more difficult.

“The hardest thing for us in the labor movement is that we have three friends. Which friend do we vote for? Which friend do we return? Scheer said.

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

“Organized labor is divided, we are divided on who to support,” Shaver said. “So that’s the dilemma we have, from where we all come from. We all have our own relationship with those candidates. So that’s going to be difficult.”

Porter, Schiff and Lee each plead the case

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