(Des Moines, IA) Vice President Al Gore on Friday received the endorsement of one of Iowa’s largest unions as he pledged to be a champion for worker rights.
“We have thousands and thousands of members in this state who are going to pave the way for you to the White House,” said Jan Corderman, president of the Iowa chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
The AFSCME Union provided crucial backing to Tom Vilsack’s successful 1998 campaign for Governor Gore is hoping to harness the union’s political acumen to boost his bid to win Iowa’s Caucuses in February, 2000 — a crucial, early test in the presidential campaign.
“If you will do for me what you did when you made Tom Vilsack the first democratic governor here in 30 years, you will take me all the way to the White House,” Gore told about 300 AFSCME members who were gathered in Des Moines for the group’s annual convention.
AFSCME is the first Iowa labor union — and the second union in the nation — to endorse Gore, who has sometimes had a rocky relationship with organized labor due to his support of the North American Free Trade Agreement. (NAFTA).
“Organized labor won more than 70 percent of the races in which you played a role in last fall,” Gore said during his half-hour long speech to Iowa AFSCME, which boasts more than 10,000 members.
Gore’s Iowa campaign manager, Steve Hildebrand, called AFSCME a “politically-aware, well-organized” group which will provide some leg power to Gore’s Iowa effort through its phone banks, mail lists and door-to-door campaigns.
Wearing khaki pants and a short-sleeved gray polo shirt, Gore pumped his arms when the AFSCME endorsement was announced, then minutes later outlined how he might repay labor for its political support. Gore said one way to build a better economy was to “start with a strong labor movement in the 21st century.
“I want you to know that I will always, always, always be for working men and women,” Gore said. “….The right to organize is a fundamental American right that must never be blocked, must never be
stopped, must never be taken away.”
Gore accused the “Gingrich Congress” of seeking to curtail worker rights with “tricky loopholes,” a movement he said began in the Reagan White House with a “frenzy of union busting.”.
:”I believe government should lead the way when it comes to labor rights and not lag behind. I’m proud President Clinton has vetoed every piece of anti-worker legislation that has landed on his desk….and if they try again after the year 2000, with your help, I’ll stop them myself. I make you that promise,” Gore said.
Gore repeated his support for an increase in the minimum wage and promised to restore “checks and balances” in the American workplace to ensure the “voices of working men and women” are heard as loudly as management in contract talks.
“I want to be a President for working men and women,” Gore said. “To have a level playing field and restore that balance in the workplace for fairness and justice.”
Political scientists say the endorsement Gore received Friday comes from one of the most politically powerful unions in the state.
“Clearly unions in general and municipal and state employees in particular, are a crucial vote for any democrat candidate,” said University of Iowa political scientist Peverill Squire. “Looking at a Caucus, if you can get these people on your side, they’ll organize. They’ll help generate more turnout. They themselves will come out on caucus night so that’s a crucial block of votes.”
Iowa State University political science professor Steffen Schmidt said AFSCME has a proven success record in Iowa politics.
“In Iowa, unions are not that strong, but if anything, certainly ‘white collar’ unions are more prominent. Iowa is a government- and government-service-strong state as opposed to being an industrial state,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt said the two democrats in the presidential race aren’t necessarily the favorites of industrial unions because both Gore and Bill Bradley support the North American Free Trade Agreement.
“But NAFTA doesn’t really affect teachers or government union workers so in that respect that’s a group that probably likes some of the policies that Gore is projecting,” Schmidt said.
AFSCME members were handed “Gore 2000” placards to wave as they stood, five times, to applaud Gore during his speech.
“He’s a voice for labor, something we need in there. We can’t go back to republicanism,” said Owen Bickford of Anamosa, an AFSCME member.
Bickford was never attracted to Bradley’s candidacy. “Gore’s got a little more experience and he seems to talk more for the common man,” Bickford said.
Linda Felts of Davenport has seen Gore in person three times, including Gore’s visit to her after school program at an inner city school.
“He’s supporting us people in the workforce,” Felts said.