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AFL-CIO Working Families Presidential Forum Transcript - Part 2

Location: Chicago, IL

REV. SHARPTON: Well, not only would I go for full funding of that program, I would go for a furtherance of that program. We need to have an unequivocal commitment to public education. The role of government is not to select which students we're going to try to help. The role of government is to help all students become well-educated and have access to equal quality education. (Applause.)

Part of my platform—and it's outlined on our web page, AL2004 -- is that we want to not only see the monies put in education—first of all, Mr. Bush did not give us a tax cut. He gave us a tax shift, because by what he did, it forced property taxes to go up, sales taxes to go up. So he put a tax on working-class people so that the wealthy would not have to pay their fair share.

As president, I would make sure that they pay their fair share, that we would regulate big business. Enron had 3,000 offshore companies paying no taxes. That is a crime. We have an attorney general that can't find corporate greed criminals but can put every union leader under investigation in the labor movement. (Cheers.) We need—

MR. EDWARDS: Senator Lieberman, you have supported school voucher programs and stated that vouchers are an idea worth testing. What sorts of limits would you place on school voucher programs? And, given the choice between funding an experimental voucher program or dedicating the additional money to public schools, what choice would you make there?

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Bob, maybe the first thing I should do is say that when I'm elected president, I will not reappoint
John Ashcroft attorney general of the United States. (Laughs.)

But let me come to the vouchers, scholarships. I said, when I declared my candidacy for the president of the United States, that I was running to keep the American dream alive. Nothing has helped more Americans to realize their promise in America than the public schools of America. (Applause.)

We have got to fully fund the so-called No Child Left Behind Act. We have to fully fund the Special Education Act. That is our priority. We have to treat teachers and pay them as the professionals that they are. Nobody does more important work in our country.

But I've said I'm not going to close any door that might lead to helping us better educate all of America's children. We know that today we're not accomplishing our goals, particularly for our lowest-income children. And so I've said let's try competition in the public schools. Let's even try the so-called voucher program on an experimental basis, just to see if we learn anything from it. (Scattered boos.)

You asked—I'm going to speak the truth. I'm going to say what I think is best for America, regardless. And let me put it this way. You asked about the limits, Bob. This is an experiment. Try it for three to four years. Limit it to poor children. Don't take any money out of the public school budget to try it. Then look at it and research it and decide, did we learn anything from it that can help us make the public schools so good that no parent will ever feel his or her child is trapped in a public school where they can't afford to take them out of, which is what most of the rest of America does?

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you very much.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: That's my goal.

MR. EDWARDS: Our final subject area of the evening: Freedom to form a union. Here are the workers.

(Begin videotape.)

SHAWN FRANKLIN (Federal Security Screener, Baltimore): I've been a federal screener at BWI Airport for the past year.
The Bush administration has denied us collective bargaining rights, and it's not fair. If you were president, how can you ensure us we'll have collective bargaining rights like other federal agencies under Homeland Security?

CLORINDA VALDIVIA (Former Laundry Worker, Bay Shore): My name is Clorinda. I worked for Cintas six years. When I started to fight for the union, Cintas fired me. And I would like to know what you will do for the workers' right to form a union.

CHRIS AYALA (Administrative Assistant, Richmond): I've been suspended twice for union activity. I want a union because I have low pay, poor benefits, and we need a voice on the job.

LYNNE WANG (Reporter, Los Angeles): We won the election almost three years ago, and we are still waiting for the NLRB to finalize our vote. While we're waiting, the management did a lot of harassment, intimidation, firing union supporters.

DWIGHT DAVIS (Fleet Service Clerk, Burnham, IL): I'd like to know, what are you going to do to make sure that unions are stable and that everyone has the right to organize?

(End of videotape.)

MR. EDWARDS: I'm going to hazard a guess that all the people we've just seen are not going to be selected employee of the month in their respective companies. (Laughter.)

Ambassador Braun, it's supposed to be a legal activity to be able to bargain collectively for better wages and working conditions. Why are these people having trouble?

MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: They shouldn't. And the fact of the matter is that unions, organized labor, has given us the middle class. And if we're going to fight for the middle class, we have to fight for unions. That's just straightforward.

Whether the issue is pensions—and I really wanted to answer your pension question. You know, this is especially important for women because we suffer a wage gap still that becomes a pension gap, a retirement gap. Unions are fighting to bridge that gap and to provide equal pay for women workers in the workforce, which will provide for pay equity or retirement equity in the pension system, so that not so many of the elderly poor are women.

Unions are fighting to provide educational opportunity for people on the other side, preparing workers for the workforce. And so it is important, I think, for every American who is concerned about social justice that they support the right of workers to organize.

I come out of a family in which my dad used to march picket lines and worked to organize workers back in the days when I was a small child. And so I've grown up with the notion that the right of workers to come together, to bargain collectively for the conditions of work and for their lifestyle and for wages and the like, is a fundamental right that the American people have had, have enjoyed.

And we must continue to make certain that they enjoy it. A start would be to fix the NLRB, to start over, to give us real enforcement so that workers' rights to organize and to fight for social justice is not compromised by a right-wing agenda. (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, Ambassador.

Governor Dean, we heard from an airport screener at the beginning of that segment. The screeners are specifically prohibited from organizing and having a union. Does President Dean reverse that?

MR. DEAN: Yes. Bob, when we first looked at the rules for this debate, we were told that if anybody mentioned our name, that automatically gave us a minute. I'm not going to go back and ask you to change the rules, but I think I'll take 20 seconds just to tell everybody that I have never favored Social Security retirement at the age of 70, nor do I favor one of 68.

Now, let me talk a little bit about unions. (Applause.) No, not 65. I actually answered the question about organizing—first of all, of course I'm going to reverse—practically everything President Bush does is a disaster for the country. I think I'll reverse a whole lot more than that.

Let me just talk about Vermont a little bit. I think I'm the only doctor in America that has a 100 percent COPE record. I got the first annual AFL-CIO Wellstone Award for helping the AFT organize a group of nurses at the largest hospital in the
country. (Applause.)

We have—in my state, we have a little Davis-Bacon. We have a minimum wage that's going to be $7 an hour by the end of next year. We have a prevailing wage law. And we are not a right-to-work state.

Now, our economy is better than most of the economies around the country, and I think what we have to do is let the American people understand that if you want a strong economy, the right to organize is important because we need to make sure that middle-class people actually have money in their pocket to support an economy. (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, Governor.

Senator Edwards, you're from a right-to-work state. What's your position on so-called right-to-work laws that prevent union security agreements, so-called paycheck protection legislation?

SEN. EDWARDS: Well, first, I would point out that I come from a state that's probably the least organized of anybody represented on this podium. And I have, along with Dennis Kucinich, the best voting record in the United States Congress on AF of L issues. I do it not for politics, because it's part of what I am. It's what I believe in. It is the right thing to do.

My younger brother is a member of the IBEW. (Scattered applause.) His wife, his family—Local 553 -- his wife and his family have health care today because of the union. My mother is a retired member of the Letter Carriers. She and my father have health care today because of the union. This is personal for me.

The work that you do every day, giving voice to and fighting for working people, is so important for people like my parents, people like my brother and his family. This is personal for me. And so we need serious labor law reform to stop these companies from violating the law, to make card check neutrality the law of the land, to require companies, when, in fact, you win an election, to negotiate; if they don't do it, for the issue to go to arbitration immediately. And we should ban the hiring of permanent replacement for strikers today. (Cheers.) It should be the law of America today. (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Congressman Kucinich, how about these workers who have been fired or otherwise harassed for attempting to organize? Apparently federal laws aren't strong enough or they're not being enforced.

REP. KUCINICH: I intend to establish what I have called a workers' White House, where workers' rights would be held inviolate. And by workers' rights, what do I mean? I mean a White House which will protect the right to organize, the right to collective bargaining, the right to strike, the right to decent wages and benefits, the right to a safe workplace, the right to a
secure retirement, the right to participate in the political process.

A White House which will stand with workers is a White House which will enable all of the workers in this country, both the workers not organized and the workers organized, to have their standard of living uplifted.

Now, there's been this question raised about the right to work. Well, we know what the right to work means. It means the right to work for less. And we have to recognize what it would mean to have the power of the White House behind the workers, because as the next president of the United States, I intend to use the full power of the White House to repeal
Taft-Hartley—no more right to work for less. (Scattered applause.)

I intend to issue an executive order that will say when half of the workers sign up, there's an automatic union. We need to make sure we put the power of the White House behind workers. And I will make sure that when it comes to running the Department of Labor, it isn't going to be the corporation. The representatives in the Department of Labor will come right from the House of Labor. (Applause.)

Thank you.

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you.

Reverend Sharpton, is it an enforcement problem? Is there just not enough staff at the NLRB? What's the—

REV. SHARPTON: No, it is not an enforcement problem alone. One, we must stop delegating the right to organize to states' rights. We must have strong federal laws and a strong attorney general that will enforce the federal laws and will make those states that operate contrary to those laws penalized, as we did with civil rights legislation and other things, because states are doing to labor what they have done to minorities and others in this country.

We can't fight it state by state. If I were president, we'd have a federal law, an attorney general that would enforce the federal law, and any state that would violate would be in violation of federal law.

Thirdly, we must have a real commitment from this party that labor not be treated as a special interest. Labor is the interest of this party. (Applause.) We cannot keep delegating—we cannot keep delegating the core of this party like we're some stepchildren—labor here, minorities here. We are the family of this party. This party has to stand up for the family.
Otherwise it becomes dysfunctional. And we keep getting beat by those who are hateful and spiteful and trying to turn back the clock on all of us. (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: It's already time for closing statements. And this has been decided by lottery. And the lucky winner of the opportunity to speak first is Senator Bob Graham.

SEN. GRAHAM: Thank you, Bob. And thanks to each of you for the opportunity to present our views to you tonight.
George Bush has lost the trust of the American people. (Applause.) This is the president who repeatedly used misleading information to make the case for a war in Iraq, a war that I opposed; some on this stage tonight supported.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have a Pinocchio president. (Cheers.) Just last week, he told us that by giving tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans, we were growing the economy. Tell that to 3 million Americans who have lost their jobs during the time that George W. Bush has been president of the United States. (Scattered applause.)

The president's nose keeps growing. But friends, are we really surprised? Are we really surprised that the man who, as president of the Texas Rangers, traded Sammy Sosa is having such trouble running our national economy? (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Senator, thank you very much.
Senator Edwards.

SEN. EDWARDS: This president says that he wants to have a debate about values next year. Well, America deserves that debate. I come from a family where my grandmother was a sharecropper. As I mentioned earlier, my father worked in a mill all his life. I was the first person in my family to go to college.

And when I was young, I myself worked in the mill with my father. I will never forget the men and women I saw there, with lint in their hair and grease on their faces, proud of what they were doing, working hard to try to build a better life for their families and for the future of their families. They believed in hard work and responsibility.

George Bush comes from a different place. He comes from a place where the only thing people respect is wealth, where wealth is protected, not work respected. He comes from a place where opportunity is horded, not shared. He believes that somehow, if we take care of people at the top, the whole country will do better.

Well, that's what's caused tax cuts for people who don't need them, fiscal irresponsibility. It is the reason this country is driven deeper and deeper into deficit every day. America deserves better. We deserve a president who cares about real problems for real people. I have real solutions. That's what this campaign should be about—corporate reform to protect workers and shareholders, tax reform to get rid of tax cuts for the rich and keep jobs right here in America.

MR. EDWARDS: Senator, thank you.

SEN. EDWARDS: Finally, finally, I believe in an America where the son of a mill worker can actually beat the son of a president for the White House. That's the America I believe in, and that is the America I will fight for in 2004.

MR. EDWARDS: Governor Dean.

MR. DEAN: The real question here tonight is which one of us can beat George Bush. Here's how I plan to do it. I opposed the war on Iraq, not because I'm a pacifist; because I didn't think the evidence was there. I opposed No Child Left Behind because it was an unfunded mandate that doesn't help kids; it leaves more of them behind. I opposed the tax cuts because I want a balanced budget and investment in America so we can have jobs in this country again.

You can't beat President Bush by trying to be like him. We tried that in 2002 and it didn't work. The way to beat this president is to stand up, be proud to be Democrats, look to what Harry Truman put on the 1948 Democratic Party platform—health insurance for everybody. We need to stand up for ourselves again and take on the president directly.

In the last quarter, most of you know that I raised a lot of money. That was great. But it was the way I raised it that matters -- 93,000 Americans, more than half of them never gave to a political candidate before, and most of the gifts were under $100. That's how you beat a president who can get $2,000 checks as often as he wants.

We're going to give the 50 percent of Americans who don't vote anymore a reason to vote in the Democratic Party. We're going to stand up and be proud to be Democrats. We've got the numbers. And this time, the person who gets the most votes is going to win the White House. (Cheers/applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, Governor.

Senator Lieberman.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Well, talking about 2000, let me thank all of you in the AFL-CIO for the tremendous support that America's working families gave Al Gore and me in 2000. Without your support, we actually might have lost that election.
But you and I have a second chance this time around. And I'll tell you who doesn't deserve a second chance—George W. Bush. He's not earned it. You know, I was thinking, I didn't get a chance to answer the labor law reform question. We'd never allow presidents of the United States to be elected the way the National Labor Relations Board conducts labor organizing elections, maybe because George Bush won an unfair election; that's why he continues to tolerate the abuse and harassment that I've heard from workers all over America.

I'm not going to allow it. I'm going to support labor law reform, including card check procedures. I'm going to support the earned right to legalization for undocumented immigrant workers who are harassed and abused by their employers and need the right to join unions.

Yeah, friends, we've got a choice to make this year. It's a choice between the past and the future. It's a choice that's important to the future safety and prosperity of our country. Do you want to go backward to old ideas, weakness and pessimism, or go forward with new ideas, strength and optimism?

I'm an independent-minded Democrat who wants to pick up the torch of Bill Clinton and Al Gore and win this election by going back to the fiscal responsibility, the pro-jobs, the working from the center out to earn the trust of the American people to govern again.

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, Senator.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: We're not going to win by being opposed to all tax cuts, which would raise taxes on middle-class Americans. We're not going to earn the trust of the American people by being weak or ambivalent on defense. Let's pull together and fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party and the future of America.

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you.

SEN. LIEBERMAN: Let's send George Bush not just on a month-long vacation but a permanent vacation back to that ranch in Texas. (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Congressman Gephardt.

REP. GEPHARDT: My dad was a Teamster and a milk truck driver in St. Louis, Missouri. My mom was a secretary. Neither of them got through high school. My mom died about eight weeks ago. They were great people. Every day that I've been in the House, now 27th year, I've simply tried to represent people like my parents, the people that make this country great, like you.

This president has declared war on the middle class, on labor unions, on working families. He only cares about the wealthiest. He doesn't care about the people who are out there every day trying to raise their families, trying to make a living, trying to get ahead.

This president must be defeated. He is not leading this country in the right direction, and he's declared war on the American people. I will beat him. I can't wait to get into the debates with him. I will show him for what he is, declaring a war on the people.

Let me finally say this. When I'm in that Oval Office, you're never going to have to wonder or doubt. This election is not about me or any of us. It's not even about the Democratic Party. This election is about us. It's about what kind of country this is going to be, what kind of jobs we're going to have, what kind of health care, what kind of education.

Every day on every issue, I'm going to be trying to figure out how to take care of people like my parents. That's the kind of president that will win this election against George Bush.

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, Congressman. (Applause.)

Reverend Sharpton.

REV. SHARPTON: Since my pre-teenage years, I have fought in the area of corporate accountability and civil rights. As a youngster, Bayard Rustin, a great labor leader, gave me the money to start a youth group in New York. We celebrate this month the 40th anniversary of the march that he and others put together that labor and others marched in Washington and heard about the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King.

Forty years later, we still see the gap between the haves and the have-nots. Forty years later, we still see a country that will not deal equally and fairly with labor. I intend in this race to not only win an election but to win a direction. We have gone in the wrong direction in this party. We need to go back in the direction of building coalitions and building on progressive politics that are people-based.

I've marched with President Sweeney. I've been to jail with Dennis Rivera. I didn't just come here to get a vote. I came when it was time to put our blood and sweat on the line.

There are the pundits that say Lieberman is the centrist and Dean and Kerry is the liberal. Well, I'm the conservative on this stage. I want you to know the secret. I'm the conservative. I'm fighting to conserve Roe versus Wade, to conserve affirmative action, to conserve workers' right to organize, to conserve what Wellstone and others stood up for. We must conserve what we won in the last 50 years. To conserve it, vote for Al Sharpton in the Democratic primary. (Cheers/applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Senator Kerry.

SEN. KERRY: Every day in America, millions of Americans get up and go to work and they have a decent pay, safe workplace, many of them health care, pensions. And the reason they have that—and we deserve a president who understands this—is because, through the years, members of organized labor were prepared to put their lives on the line to win that right for their fellow Americans.

And I believe we deserve a president—and I look forward to being on that stage with President Bush and reminding him that when the Republicans go out there and give those easy speeches about heroes in New York City, that we remind them that every single one of those firefighters, police officers, emergency medical personnel who went up those stairs and gave those lives so others would live, every one of them was a member of organized labor and they believed in the right to strike, the right to bargain and the right to do better. (Cheers/applause.)

My friends, we need to beat George Bush. I am the only person on this stage running for president, the only person if he were here who has actually fought in a war and served in uniform. I cannot wait to stand up and remind him that having a skilled Navy pilot land you on an aircraft carrier in a borrowed suit does not make up for losing 3 million jobs. It does not make up for going back on civil rights. It does not make up for a failed economic policy.

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, Senator.

SEN. KERRY: Thank you. And that's why I'm going to beat George Bush in 2004. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

MR. EDWARDS: Ambassador Moseley Braun.

MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: Thank you. I am so happy that the AFL-CIO chose my hometown for this convention.
Welcome. (Cheers.) And I hope you delegates enjoy this beautiful city. Chicago has it all, and we are glad you're here.
Let's face it. America is not working for all Americans. They can say that the economy is turning around. But are we better off? This Bush crowd has the nerve, has the nerve to classify Halliburton as a small business and send enforcement money to shut down picket lines while the thieves that ruined Enron's pensions are vacationing on their sailboats. We have to get them out in 2004.

I look forward to working with you on voter registration. People need to know that their vote counts and their voice matters. When Americans vote, the people—when working people vote, all of America wins. I am in this race to bring a new way of looking at policy challenges that we face as a nation.

Women deserve a chance to lead, and we bring a practical approach to getting things done. I can make America work for working people.

MR. EDWARDS: Ambassador—

MS. MOSELEY BRAUN: I want to rebuild America, both physically and spiritually. I am a child of the working class. I haven't forgotten where I come from. And I am here to pave the way for your daughters, for your sisters and your nieces.
And together, we can take the men-only sign off the White House door. (Applause.)

Thank you. I look forward and I'd be honored to have your support.

MR. EDWARDS: And Congressman Kucinich gets the last word.

REP. KUCINICH: (Cheers.) It's in the Bible, "The last shall be first." Brothers and sisters, you know me. I've never forgotten my worker's roots. I come from Ohio with 19 electoral votes. With labor's help, I defeated an incumbent Republican mayor. With labor's help, I defeated a Republican incumbent state senator. With labor's help, I defeated a Republican incumbent congressman. And with labor's help in 2004, I will defeat a Republican incumbent president.

I can win this election, and no Republican has ever won the White House and lost Ohio. My nomination guarantees a workers' White House. I have a proven record as a champion of workers' rights. Working with you and our brothers and sisters in Cleveland, we saved a steel mill, saved jobs working with the steel workers, saved a landing gear division working with the UAW, saved a muni light system working with the IBEW, saved two hospitals working with the SEIU, saved a union in a lockout working with the Teamsters. Together we can save this nation.

As president of a workers' White House, my first act will be to cancel NAFTA, we'll cancel the WTO, we'll institute card check, we'll take action to repeal Taft-Hartley, we'll have universal health care introduced in the Congress, and I'll sign an executive order that provides the protection to the Fair Labor Standards Act to all of our immigrant brothers and sisters.
And a workers' White House means an end to the privatization of government jobs and a return of the retirement age back to 65, and an end to the illegal, immoral war led by the lies and the statements of this administration!

MR. EDWARDS: Thank you, Congressman. Thank you. (Cheers.)

REP. KUCINICH: Thank you.

MR. EDWARDS:  Thanks to all the candidates for coming here tonight and answering our questions. I want to thank the AFL-CIO and President Sweeney for asking me to participate. It has been quite an honor. And from all of us here at Navy Pier in the great city of Chicago, thanks for watching and good night. (Cheers, applause.)


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