The AFL-CIO in Des Moines has scheduled at least 21 Democratic presidential candidates will speak at the largest labor cattle call in the nation Aug. 21 at Prairie Meadows.
The event is open to union members and the media, though not the general public.
Charlie Wishman, secretary and treasurer of the Iowa Federation of Labor, said the candidates will each have 10 minutes to speak.
This is the best chance for presidential candidates to address union leadership in the state, many of whom have pull at the national level, he said.
“They are the decision makers,” Wishman said, of Iowa’s AFL-CIO members. “They’ll bring their perspective to their national unions as to what they heard and the different interactions they’ve had with candidates.”
While the candidates will have time to woo union members, the Iowa Federation of Labor cannot make an endorsement.
“We have no ability to make an endorsement,” Wishman said. “That is strictly something that is done at the national level.”
Ken Sagar, president of the Iowa Federation of Labor, said candidates can talk about whatever they like on stage, but there are specific issues the AFL-CIO pushes them on when they come into the Des Moines office (16 candidates already have).
“We talk about jobs, we talk about health care, we talk about education and we talk about retirement, because that’s what our membership talks to us about,” Sagar said. “Those aren’t single issues, by the way. When you talk about jobs that’s everything from infrastructure to minimum wage.”
Retirement is a major concern right now, Sagar said. Retirement used to be described as a three-legged stool — savings, Social Security and pension.
“Now, when you see less than 10 percent of Americans have a defined benefit pension, well that’s going to pinch on a lot of people in the future,” Sagar said. “So, that’s kind of a big issue. We need to maintain social security for public sector workers and IPERS [Iowa Public Employees’ Retirement System]”.
Educational opportunities is another topic the IFL has pushed.
Sagar said there must be universal pre-k and an affordable college education plan that doesn’t make students long-time profit centers for banks.
“It’s just crazy what we’ve done to our kids,” Sagar said. “Let’s face it. Not everybody needs a college education.”
There are plenty of apprenticeship programs offering education with no student loan debt and jobs with starting wages north of $40 per hour.
“These issues are the issues our membership have been talking about,” Sagar said.
Wishman said everyone in the AFL-CIO office knocked on doors last year and those were the issues voters addressed.
“We knock union members’ doors and this is the stuff our members talked about that they cared about,” Wishman said. “I never heard a single person bring up Robert Mueller or Russia or any of the things that maybe take up a lot of the national attention.”
“And not that those aren’t important issues that need to be addressed,” he said, “but the things that our membership has anxiety about and they care about and they want to see this country do something about, it’s not necessarily what you’re hearing a lot of cable news outlets talk about on a daily basis. No one brought up AOC [U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez]. People don’t care about that, people care about their jobs.”
That’s why the AFL-CIO is hosting the forum — to give candidates a chance to talk about the issues that matter to union members.
“As opposed to the Democratic Hall of Fame, for example, where candidates had 10 minutes to touch on every single issue that might appeal to Democratic voters, we expect candidates would be wise to speak to the working class on labor issues,” Wishman said.
The following candidates are expected to speak:
Bill de Blasio
By Paige Godden
Photo via IFL