By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
WASHINGTON (PAI)—Hillary Clinton finally showed that she can turn a crowd on.
The former Secretary of State, the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, repeatedly brought 3,000 unionists to their feet with strong pro-worker pledges – and a few jabs at the two leading Republican hopefuls – on April 19.
Clinton took time out from that day’s New York primary, which she won by a 57 percent-43 percent margin over challenging Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., to jet to D.C. to address the 2016 Legislative-Political Conference of North America’s Building Trades. That’s the renamed AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department.
And her passion for workers’ causes, from project labor agreements to being their advocate in the White House, excited the audience.
Admittedly, Clinton addressed unionists already disposed to back her. North America's Building Trades Unions and ten of its 13 member unions, previously endorsed her candidacy, and unionized construction workers have been pounding the pavements for her this election season. Those waving signs in the cavernous hotel hall included the slogan “Hardhats for Hillary.”
Still, Clinton is known for her policy-filled, fact-filled and rather dispassionate speechmaking. Her Building Trades speech was still policy-heavy and fact-filled, but it was anything but dispassionate. The cheering came for Clinton statements such as:
• “If I become your president, I will be your champion in the White House – and you will have a seat at the table.”
• “I will not let anyone undermine collective bargaining rights. I will not let anyone undermine prevailing wage standards. I will not let anyone undermine project labor agreements.” Those three statements were interrupted by cheers after each.
• “I’ll fight for a tax credit to expand your successful model” of apprenticeship training, which she said reaches African-Americans, Latinos, women and the disabled and brings them, via the building trades, into well-paying middle-class jobs.
“There are 1.2 million jobs” pending or available in construction, especially as current workers retire. “I want them to be filled by apprentices trained by the building trades and to become members of building trades unions.
Clinton repeated her proposal for a five-year $275 billion plan to rebuild U.S. bridges, roads and mass transit, now funded by the federal gas tax. She added a public-private partnership, funding a $250 billion national infrastructure development bank, for “projects of regional or national significance.” Building trades unions have campaigned for such a bank for years, as have congressional Democrats. The GOP ignores the bank plan.
And Clinton was particularly passionate, and got a storm of applause, when she described the infrastructure disaster, and political moves – by Republicans – that poisoned the drinking water in Flint, Mich., with lead. That harmed kids, especially minority kids. Earlier, the whole crowd gave a standing ovation to Plumbers Local 370 members who are replacing faucets and installing filters, as well as bringing bottled water, to the stricken city, for free.
All Clinton’s infrastructure lines got vigorous approval, as building trades members help erect those structures, pave the roads and build new subways, tunnels, power lines, bridges and airports. She noted U.S. infrastructure – from eroding pipes to a creaky electrical grid to elderly airports to crumbling highways and bridges – needs not just repair, but replacement.