Hundreds of people and eight 2020 Democratic presidential candidates showed up to Iowa Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer’s inaugural fish fry in Cedar Rapids Saturday afternoon to discuss issues important to unions.
The Fish Fry was co-hosted by the IBEW PAC, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers PAC, the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers PAC, the International Union of Operating Engineers-EPEC, the FIRE PAC, the SMART-TD PAC and the UA Union Plumbers and Pipefitters Vote! PAC.
It’s no surprise Finkenauer’s Fish Fry was co-hosted by labor leaders, as she’s the first family member of a UAW member (her father) ever elected to office.
“The general presidents and the union leaders who are coming in to stand by my side to elevate the work we still need to do means a great deal,” Finkenauer said. “We do this together and we do it for our neighbors across the country, because our working families need to be of the utmost importance to our country’s next leader.”
Russ Breckenridge, the National Legislative & Political Affairs director for the Plumbers & Pipefitters Union, said Finkenauer is a tireless advocate for unions and the Fish Fry was her idea.
“She grew up knowing how important these jobs and the building trades are to families across our country,” Breckenridge said. “So the fact that Abby is really shining a light on the issues important to the building trades and holding the forum to discuss the issues that are important to working families is very important to the presidential nomination process from our viewpoint.”
Finkenauer, who was in good spirits after the Fish Fry, said she was happy everyone had the chance to talk about labor issues because she knows “a lot of folks grew up the same way I did.”
“My dad is a union pipefitter welder, my mom worked for the school district and I was the first-generation college grad, still paying off my student loans,” Finkenauer said. “It is personal. I talk about that a lot. These polices that are being pushed aren’t something separate from my life or to the lives of my friends and neighbors here.”
Building out rural broadband, equal pay for equal work and creating new union jobs in order to rebuild greener infrastructure were just a few of the topics discussed at the four-hour forum.
Attendees included Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, John Delaney and Pete Buttigieg.
Iowans like Gary Wendt enjoyed the forum, saying it focused in on issues Iowans care about most.
“This is a great opportunity. It’s stuff that doesn’t get talked about enough — infrastructure and jobs,” Wendt said. “Today they talked about stuff that isn’t in the top ten, maybe not even in the top 20 of the issues, but it’s really important.”
Wendt seemed particularly impressed with Buttigieg, noting he understands how to revive local governments without overreaching his bounds.
During his speech, Buttigieg pointed to his plan to help local governments fix their roads and bridges and to fund their larger infrastructure projects.
“One of the things you see if you look up our plan on rural economic growth is a way to make sure it’s easier for rural counties to partner as a region and make it easier for rural communities to get access to federal funds,” Buttigieg said.
Wendt argued that’s a huge statement to make in rural Iowa, where the first agenda items on city council meetings are often “non-sexy” waterworks plans.
“Those are big budget items,” Wendt said. “And it costs the same for a town of 1,000 people as it does for a city like Cedar Rapids with 100,000. Because it costs the same, they don’t have the population base to pay for it.”
Went said Buttigieg seems to realize that, as does Biden, Sanders and Klobuchar.
Candace Acord, a probation officer and member of AFSCME, said the labor-focused forum was a good event to attend because unions here have been “hit so hard” in the last few years.
“All we can bargain for now is benefits and wages,” Acord said. “That’s all we’ve got. I’ve got no discipline and discharge. When people come to me and say, ‘hey, my boss is on me about this,’ there’s nothing I can do except go through a much more lengthy process that involves the Department of Administrative Services.”
After the forum, Acord said she was particularly impressed with Warren and Harris. She likes Warren because she not only has a plan to create new jobs by building infrastructure, she also has a plan to pay for it with her two-cent wealth tax.
“I’m really paying attention to what are you going to do to support us,” Acord said of the candidates. “What are you going to do to bring us back?”
Ronald Lamparek, a 38-year IBEW technician with Collins Aerospace in Cedar Rapids, said the Fish Fry was a good chance to hear what candidates will do to protect unions.
“Without union representation for me over the years, we would have got paid a lot less than I do at my job,” Lamparek said. “I get paid because of union representation. I’m a technician, and I get paid about 50 percent more than assembly operators.”
The Iowans were certainly friendly ears for the candidates whom have a history of supporting labor issues. Candidates themselves talked about a whole range of issues.
When asked what she’d do to ensure her administration would create good jobs, Warren said she’d use the power of federal contracting as leverage to encourage companies to pay fair wages.
“My view is if they’re going to use taxpayer dollars to pay for something, then it ought to be for good jobs,” Warren said.
Sanders used a similar question to pitch his plan to combat climate change, which aims to create up to 15 million jobs. He applauded Iowa’s work on being a leader in wind energy and said his administration would increase funding for wind, solar and biofuels.
“We will create many, many millions of jobs, but most importantly we will hold our heads high and say we listened to the scientists,” Sanders said. “We are going to move to sustainable energy. We are going to save the planet.”
While on stage, Biden pitched his new plan to re-energize unions and mentioned his idea to hold CEOs personally and financially responsible for trying to prevent the formation of unions.
Harris later promised to fight for equal pay for equal work and shared her plan to fine corporations who aren’t paying women their fair share the same percentage as the wage gap their unfair practices create.
by Paige Godden