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Remarks by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY), Presidential Candidate, to the AFL-CIO Building Trades 2008 Legislative Conference

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Location: Washington, DC

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BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

SEN. CLINTON: Good morning! (Cheers.) Good morning! Good morning! (Applause.) Good morning to the people that build America, that keep it going and that are going to give us the kind of future economy we deserve to have. I am so grateful to be here. (Cheers, applause.)

I want to thank Mark Ayers and Sean McGarvey and the BCTD General Board of Presidents. I am thrilled to have been accompanied in here by the leaders of the unions that have publicly endorsed me. I am grateful and honored to have received the endorsement of the plasterers and cement masons today. (Cheers, applause.) And you know, that endorsement, along with bricklayers and the sheet metal workers -- (cheers) -- and the painters and the allied trades -- (applause) -- I am very grateful to Pat and John and Mike and Jimmy, and of course I'm always please to be here with Eddie Malloy and everybody from New York. (Cheers, applause.)

And it's a great honor to have been introduced by Jack Murtha. You know, if you know anything about Congressman Murtha, you know he's a patriot, through and through. He is someone who has given his all to our country, first in the Marine Corps, combat veteran from Vietnam, years in the Reserves, and of course in the Congress, where he fights so hard to make sure that we have the right kind of defense and that we take care of our veterans.

I am thrilled and grateful to have Jack Murtha's endorsement. I can't think of anyone that I'd rather have on my side in this campaign. (Applause.)

And I also want to say that I am happy to see the laborers back with the building trades and -- (cheers, applause) -- I congratulate all of you who worked so hard to make that happen. But let's be honest; it is your hundredth anniversary and we all know Terry wouldn't miss that party. (Laughter.) So welcome back.

I want to congratulate you on turning 100. A hundred years of extraordinary work and commitment to your trades, to the building up of the American labor movement, to making sure that people have the right to organize and bargain collectively and to have a good living with good benefits after a hard day's work for themselves and their families.

You know, this morning I got into a car built by union members. I traveled on roads laid by union members. I drove past buildings built and maintained by union members. I came to a hotel staffed by union members. And now I'm standing here with you, union members, some of the hardest working, most patriotic Americans I know. (Cheers, applause.)

You know, sometimes I see people who speak and act as though they think unions have no place in America anymore, and I wonder what country they've been living in. Unions are America. Unions built the great American middle class, and it is unions that have helped make our country the greatest and best in the world. I know that from first-hand experience, having both worked with and watched what so many of you have done over so many years.

And I personally always recall when I think about our unions the heroic work that was done by so many of your members after September 11th. You didn't think twice about the dangerous conditions. People dropped everything they were doing across the New York region. They rushed to help. We needed you. No questions asked, everybody just showed up. And it was heroic service for which I and millions of your fellow Americans are profoundly grateful. That's why I was proud to introduce the "second responder" legislation, to train and certify and register skilled workers like you to respond to natural disasters and terrorist attacks. (Applause.)

My legislation will create a national database of workers across our country who can mobilize immediately in the event of some kind of crisis. And I look forward to working with all of you to get that enacted into law.

I know it's on the list of what you'll be lobbying for as you go up and talk to your elected representatives, and stress the importance of making sure that our country is prepared and we have a system, to not only mobilize you and send you to help but also then to take care of you after you have helped.

Because as my friends from New York know, we have been dealing with the aftermath of what people were exposed to on 9/11 and the days, weeks and months after. And we want to make sure we're prepared, to not only ask you to come to come to your country's aid but then to be there to aid you in the event that you need it.

Unfortunately these past seven years, we've had a president and a vice president and Republican leadership who just don't get it. They don't either understand or care about what you do for our country, not only what you have done, which has made all the difference, but what you are doing and you will.

They're not looking for the union label. They're looking to get rid of unions. This has been the most anti-union, anti-labor administration that, I think, we've had in a hundred years.

It's been determined to turn the Department of Labor into the Department of Anti-Labor. It has stocked every federal agency with people who are opposed to the legitimate interests and rights of organized labor.

They've increased funding that goes toward harassing unions, while cutting funding that used to go to protecting health and safety. They want to privatize any job they can find, even if it means taxpayers pay more and get less for their money.

They want to roll back, the right to organize, whenever and wherever possible. And they even sometimes question your patriotism, because you want to stand up for the basic human right to organize and bargain.

It's all part of how they view the world.

They have a simple economic philosophy: Give more to those who have the most and let everyone else fend for themselves. That's why they do give tax breaks to oil companies that are already making record profits. That's why you pay through the roof at the gas pump, but they don't seem to see the contradiction. That's why they give tax breaks to billionaires and actually let people who are making hundreds of millions of dollars pay a lower percentage of their income in taxes than a bricklayer or a laborer or a sheet-metal worker or a painter. They somehow think that's okay. That's just the way the world works.

And, of course, they love their no-bid contracts, especially if they go to their cronies like Halliburton. (Booing.) And I want everybody to just remember that it was Dick Cheney, when he was the CEO of Halliburton who raided worker pensions to get himself a golden parachute.

And I know that many of us are aware of a lot of these facts, but too often your friends, your neighbors, even the people you work with may not be. And it's time that we start right now to spread the word and make the case that we cannot continue with the Republican philosophy. You know, their wealthy friends are doing very well, but the reality for too many Americans is starkly different.

We've lost jobs for three months in a row. Costs for everything are up; incomes are stagnant or down. We've got a home mortgage crisis and a credit crisis. And we're facing the prospect of a deep and painful recession. Just like we needed the labor movement to meet the challenges of the 20th century, we desperately need the labor movement to help us overcome the challenges of the 21st century, because when -- (applause) -- you know, when the economy is faltering, we need unions standing strong, because it's your negotiations that help raise the standard of living for everyone. You set the floor and then we can build up to it.

When other countries exploit their workers to disadvantage unions, we need unions standing strong for worker rights. And when 47 million Americans don't have health insurance and millions more have it but it costs too much and it doesn't cover enough, we need unions standing strong for the right to quality, affordable health care.

You all know what it means to fight for the underdog. You do it every single day. You stand up for people who are voiceless and powerless. You go to those bargaining tables and you put down your demands and you stand firm. Well, we need a president again who's going to do exactly the same. (Cheers, applause.) We need a president who's going to be the same kind of fighter and champion.

You know, when you send someone to the bargaining table, you do need the strongest, toughest, most determined person you know. Now, I know some people think I'm tough. Well, I think we need a tough president -- (cheers, applause) -- after eight years of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney. (Sustained applause.)

You know, it's pretty simple for me. The wealthy and the well- connected have had their president. The drug companies, the insurance companies, the oil companies and Wall Street, they've had a president who sure has stood up for them. And yet the rest of our country is just waiting and watching. They're wondering whether they're going to get a president again.

And we have the most important, consequential choice that we've faced in an election in many years. On the one hand, we know who the Republican nominee is going to be -- a good man, who has served his country with great dedication and honor, but who is dead wrong on all of the important issues facing America. (Cheers, applause.)

And I'm running against an incredibly important candidate with an enormous amount of talent and ability, who has demonstrated a tremendous capacity for inspiring people across our country. And I respect and honor that.

I want you to think about this election as a hiring decision. This is essentially the longest job interview that we have conducted with the American people. (Laughter.) (Applause.) It's gone on a long time. But it's given millions of people a chance to make their judgments. It's the closest election we've had that anybody can remember. Millions of Americans have registered to vote. Many have changed their registration, which is a great piece of news, from the other party to the Democratic Party. (Cheers, applause.)

And we have 10 more contests, and I am going to compete as hard as I can in each and every one of them, starting with Pennsylvania next Tuesday. (Cheers, applause.)

And what I've done throughout this campaign is to go from place to place and offer solutions to our problems. You see, I think this election needs to be more about solutions than speeches. You need to take our measure. You need to decide who you want in your corner, who you can count on when times get tough, because as Congressman Murtha said, turning around all of the problems and the damage we're going to inherit from George W. Bush will not be easy.

You know, this is the toughest job in the world. And you are the bosses. The American president works for you. That why I want you to know what I will do staring on day one. I don't want there to be any mistake about what I intend to accomplish as your president, because I want you to hold me accountable.

I want you to come to me and say, "I was at the Building Trades and Construction Conference, and I heard you say that you were going to appoint a secretary of Labor who was actually pro-labor, and that you were going to." (Sustained cheers, applause and chants.) And that's what I'll do. And I'll appoint people to the National Labor Relations Board who are not in the pockets of business. (Cheers, applause.)

And when I say solutions, I mean standing up for the right to organize. That's why I am proud to be an original cosponsor of the Employee Free Choice Act. (Cheers, applause.) And I'm going to fight for that. (Applause.) When I'm president, I will call on the Congress to pass it within the first 100 days of my administration.

I will travel around the country, taking our case to the American people, convincing them that it was unions that helped to create the middle class, and the reason that we're seeing the middle class shrinking is in some measure due to the fact that the American labor movement has been under assault. So the Employee Free Choice Act is good for all Americans, not just for organized labor. (Cheers, applause.) And when we pass it, we're going to have the biggest signing ceremony on the back lawn of the White House. And you're all invited, so mark it on your calendars! (Cheers, applause.)

Now, when I say solutions, I mean quality, affordable health care for every American. Nobody left out, no exceptions, because I know health care is always a sticking point in your negotiations, isn't it?

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Always.

SEN. CLINTON: Always. We need to take that off the table by having a universal health care system where everybody is entitled as a matter of right -- (applause) -- to health care that is there for them all the time. I am the only candidate in this race with a health care plan to cover everyone. And when I am president, we will -- (audio break) -- we take care of the people of our country. (Cheers, applause.)

Now, when I say solutions, I mean standing up for Davis-Bacon. The idea is very simple: Our workers deserve fair wages, nothing less. This is another part of the economy that our president doesn't understand, does he? I will never forget what he did after Hurricane Katrina. When people had just been hit by that catastrophe -- actually, it was a natural disaster that he turned into a national disgrace. And to compound the insult, as people were looking for work, he repealed a law to help them get fair wages. It just absolutely boggles the mind.

And this is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It's a fundamental worker rights issue. It's about not letting anybody in Washington undermine your local wage standards.

So I'm going to put an end to these battles that you have to wage year after year to get Davis-Bacon applied to infrastructure projects. When I am president, you will never have to fight those battles again, because in my White House, Davis-Bacon will apply to all federally assisted construction projects, end of story. (Cheers, applause.)

And my Department of Labor will crack down on contractors who think they can violate Davis-Bacon and rip off worker. We will give you the tools to actually be able to enforce wage and labor laws. Because all too often you have been, in the last seven years, left without any recourse.

Last year, I came and I told you I was going to introduce a bill to give you meaningful access to contractor payroll records, so we know exactly who's shirking the laws and we can do something about it. Well, that's exactly what I did.

I introduced that legislation, and you're going to go and lobby for it on that Hill. And I want you to tell every member of Congress you speak with that we've got to give you those tools. Otherwise the laws are meaningless.

I introduced that legislation and I look forward to either seeing it signed into law before I'm president or as soon as I am, so that you can begin to enforce the laws of America. (Cheers, applause.)

Now, when I say solutions, I mean taking a hard line against employers who misclassify workers as independent contractors. We know what they're doing. They're cheating. They're exploiting undocumented workers. They're trying to avoid providing benefits like Social Security, overtime and workers compensation.

It's wrong. It's against the law. It's un-American. And I'm going to put an end to it. (Applause.)

Now, when I also say solutions, I mean new leadership on project labor agreements. The first thing President Bush did -- the first President Bush did -- was to ban PLAs from federal contracts. (Boos.)

(Audio break from source.)

But you know, it's not enough just undoing the damage that they've done and getting us back on the right track. We've got to create jobs in this country -- jobs you can raise a family on, jobs that can't be shipped overseas.

I was the first candidate to introduce an infrastructure plan, my rebuild American plan. We will create over 3 million jobs, mostly in the building trades and construction, over the next decade. (Applause.)

And we will rebuild, repair, modernize our roads, our bridges, our tunnels, our public transit systems, our water and sewer system, as Congressman Murtha said. I will create a National Infrastructure Bank with bonding authority, to ensure long-term investments in every part of our infrastructure, from seaports to highway systems to canals and levees.

And we did this during World War II. We sold bonds. People bought them. It funded our war industry. I want Americans to be able to buy bonds to put your members to work rebuilding America. And we're going to be able to do that. (Applause.)

When I say solutions, I mean protecting our defense manufacturing industry, because the technologies and materials that protect our troops should be made right here in America. (Applause.)

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Yes!

SEN. CLINTON: I spent Saturday in Indiana with your good friend and mine Senator Evan Bayh, and we traveled from one end of that state to the next, talking about how we've got to keep defense jobs in America. And I have a specific agenda to protect key "buy America" provisions for defense products, crack down on countries like China that try to steal our defense secrets, make sure that our Pentagon isn't working against us.

And I'll tell you, that that has been -- (applause) -- that has been a real battle under this administration. I'll give you one quick example. There was a steelworker plant in Indiana. It made magnets that help to guide precision-guided missiles, the smart bombs. Those magnets are not the kind you put on the refrigerator. They're highly technical and very critical to whether or not those bombs work. Been made in Indiana for years.

A Chinese company bought the company, called Magnequench, and they wanted to move the jobs to China. The people in Indiana protested, did everything they could to convince the Bush administration that this was a terrible mistake. Couldn't even get a hearing. The jobs went to China, but so did the technology. And now the United States military has to buy the magnets we need for the smart bombs we invented from China. (Booing.)

And you know as well as I do that now the Chinese know how to make those. This makes no sense at all. And so we have got to have a strong pro-defense manufacturing policy for jobs here in America, to keep the jobs and the technology at home. (Applause.)

And I will create -- I'll create $50 billion strategic energy fund to invest in alternative energy, green energy -- you know, let's make our vehicles more fuel-efficient -- to invest in wind and solar, clean coal, biofuels, geothermal, hydrogen, you name it, because I want us to be the leader again in a clean, secure energy future.

And I believe we can put at least 5 million people to work. And again, these are jobs that can't be outsourced.

I was at an IBEW training facility, Ed, in Southern California, and I was watching young people learn how to install solar panels.

There's a huge demand in California. I want the demand to sweep across America. And you know, when you think about it, you can't send that job to India or China, because somebody has to climb up on the roof and actually install the solar panels. (Applause.) So these are good American jobs that we're going to create right here.

I also want you to hold me accountable -- I want to raise the minimum wage again. I want to tie it to congressional salaries. The Congress should not give itself a salary increase unless it raises the minimum wage at the same time. (Cheers, applause.)

And finally, when I say solutions, I mean trade that works for working families. I'll impose a trade time-out. No trade agreements. We're going to evaluate every one we have. We're going to fix NAFTA. We're going to include the strongest possible labor and environmental provisions to protect the health and safety of our workers.

And yes, I will get tough on China, because right now China's steel comes here; our jobs go there. China's exports come here; our jobs across the economy are sent there. We play by the rules; they manipulate their currency. We get tainted fish, lead-laced toys, polluted pharmaceuticals. I think that's a raw deal for America.

And I'm the only candidate who isn't just talking about cracking down on China, but I have a specific plan about how to do it. I will provide safeguard relief to domestic manufacturers -- (audio break).

China should be a trade partner, not our trade master. And it's important that we have a president who has a track record of already standing up to China. You know, I stood up to them when I went to Beijing in 1995 and spoke out about the abuses and the tremendous challenges to women and human rights in China -- (applause) -- because I knew that, you know, where women are oppressed, you have extreme regimes that don't always work well with us. And I think it's important that we take China on across the board.

I"ve recently taken them on by saying that the president -- our president should not go to the opening ceremonies of the Olympics.

AUDIENCE MEMBERS: Right! (Applause.)

SEN. CLINTON: We need to send a strong signal that we expect change from China, and I will deliver that kind of change.

Now, accomplishing all that we want to do together will not be easy. And beating the Republicans in November won't be easy, either. You know, I wish they'd be so embarrassed that they would just apologize to the American people for the Bush administration and just run for the White House again -- (laughter, cheers, applause) -- but apparently that's not going to happen. So we're going to have a vigorous, contested election.

And as I say, I have a great deal of respect for Senator McCain, but yesterday he made it clear that when it comes to the economy he looks at the hole that President Bush has dug us into and says, "Why not more? Let's go deeper." (Boos.)

You know, when I was a little girl, my brothers and their friends were digging a hole in our backyard. And I remember my mother asking them, "What are you digging for?" They said, "We're digging a hole to China." Well, little did I believe all these years later -- (laughter) -- that we would have the Republican party and a president and a Republican nominee who were literally digging us a hole to China. And we can't let that continue. (Cheers, applause.)

I know that many people will be very impressed and admiring of Senator McCain's record of service, but he's admitted he doesn't understand the economy. He's proved that in this campaign. He wants more tax cuts for corporations. He has very little understanding of how we're going to get ourselves out of that hole and get back on top.

You know, it's not an exaggeration to say that the Republicans talk a good game but can't deliver. You know, when President Bush became president, we had a balanced budget and a surplus. We'd seen the creation of 22.7 million new jobs in America and people were doing well. Across America, the typical family had seen their incomes increase by $7,000. Well, now we've seen families lose $1,000 or more in income.

And it's time we start acting like Americans again. I mean, we roll up our sleeves; we get to work; we do what we do best, you know, overcoming challenges and seizing opportunities. And we're going to start by ending the war in Iraq and bringing our troops home within 60 days of my becoming president. (Cheers, applause.)

And when we bring our veterans home, we're going to take care of them. And I really appreciate the great work Jack Murtha has done in supporting the Helmets to Hardhats Program. I learned about this program from Ed Malloy and my friends in New York and we're working to expand it. I've met some of the young people who are training to do the jobs that you can provide for them.

I've been proud to stand with labor in New York, home to one in seven union members in our entire country. I've encouraged -- (applause) -- you know, I've encouraged CEOs to return to the bargaining table. I've encouraged employer neutrality in organizing campaigns. I've urged construction companies to hire local union workers. I've joined workers on the picket line.

I think if you talk to my friends from New York, they'll tell you that you can count on me. And that's what's important, because we've got to count on each other. We've got to be in this together. (Applause.)

And you know, I look at this country and I see all of the blessings and benefits that I have received.

I could not be more grateful. And I'm so proud every single day to be an American. We're not perfect, but we're the best that's ever been created anywhere in the history of humanity. (Cheers, applause.) And now -- (sustained applause).

So now it's time for us to have a president who gets it, and who you can count on.

REP. MURTHA (?): That's right: Hillary!

SEN. CLINTON: So think about this. If this were a hiring decision, who would you hire?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: You're hired!

SEN. CLINTON: Who would you hire to turn our economy around, to put labor back at the table? In fact, labor built the table. Who would you hire to get universal health care, get us a clean energy future, with new jobs, end the war in Iraq, take care of our veterans? If you hire me, I will work my heart out for you.

Let's go win an election! Thank you all, and God bless you! (Cheers, applause.)


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