- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Democratic presidential candidates yesterday pledged to block any new free-trade agreements that don’t get tougher on trading partners and promised to begin a new era of rebuilding unions as a part of the American economy.

“We should stand with those who stand for us — not for CEOs who pick up their headquarters and move them to Dubai, not for people who make record profits and just can’t figure out how to share those with their employees,” said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, who polls show is leading the Democratic field.

Yesterday’s session for the unions that make up the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Department capped a week of wooing unions.

On Tuesday, the major candidates addressed the Communications Workers of America’s conference on Capitol Hill, and last weekend Democrats vied for the support of the Service Employees International Union, which includes hospital and long-term-care workers, by pledging universal health care.

The Democrats all agreed they would support allowing unions to organize once a majority of employees sign up publicly. The White House has said President Bush will veto a bill containing that provision since it contradicts the tradition of secret ballots.

Mrs. Clinton promised to restore the directive from her husband, former President Bill Clinton, that the federal government use Project Labor Agreements (PLA), which require that a certain amount of work be given to unions.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson said he was the first governor in his state’s history to insist on a public works PLA, with work on a $400 million hospital designated “100 percent union.”

“In New Mexico, our approach is simple. I insist that business, labor and government work together,” he said.

Former Sen. John Edwards played to the workers’ fears, saying he worried about the union worker who gets off a late shift, comes home and finds his child with a fever, takes him to a hospital and has to “beg for health care.”

“Who’s going to stand for these people if we don’t,” Mr. Edwards asked.

He is the only candidate who has produced a detailed health care plan for this campaign — a major issue for the SEIU and unions in general.

Sen. Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, said he would crack down on businesses that label employees as independent contractors to try to get around employment laws and obligations.

Presidential hopefuls Sens. Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware also spoke. Republican candidates were invited, but none attended.

One Republican who did show, House Minority Leader John A. Boehner of Ohio, was loudly jeered when he said if the U.S. pulls out of Iraq, terrorists will follow and “we’ll be fighting them on the streets of America.”

Mr. Boehner tried to calm the crowd, but only drew more catcalls by saying, “We’re going to have to fight the enemy at some point, and if we don’t fight them now, when will we fight them?” He finally defused the outrage when he joked, “I appreciate the dialogue.”

Also yesterday Mrs. Clinton picked up the endorsement of the National Organization for Women, calling herself a “feminist,” and the support of Billie Jean King, a former tennis great and tennis-business pioneer who is also an activist for homosexual rights.

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