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Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President discusses union importance ahead of Joe Biden's Labor Day visit

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomberg spoke exclusively with FOX43 regarding the importance of Union workers and collective bargaining ahead of the election.

YORK, Pa. — Democratic Presidential Nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden is expected to appear at the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO Headquarters in Harrisburg Monday where he will discuss labor unions and labor issues.

Pennsylvania is home to 700,000 union workers, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It's also one of seven states that make up more than half of the total number of union workers nationwide. That's why an endorsement from Unions in the Commonwealth can make a big difference in the Presidential election.

"This year the choice is pretty clear as to who is for workers and who isn't, who's for the millionaires and billionaires and who's for the working class and the middle class," Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale told FOX43. "Clearly, Joe Biden"

The AFL-CIO endorsed the former Vice President in May. At the national level, it's the country's largest coalition of labor unions. As of 2019, there were 14.6 million wage and salary workers belonging to unions.

Mr. Bloomingdale explained the Trump Administration has continually made life difficult for union and non-union workers since he took office in 2017.

"His National Labor Relations Board takes away labor rights at every chance they get. The point of the act is to encourage organizing, but his board has made ruling after ruling to discourage organizing and allowing for workers to have their voice on the job," he said.

According to the Communications Workers of America, the trump Administration has opposed workers rights and other labor policies that restrict eligibility for overtime pay, reduced the number of OSHA inspectors to the lowest numbers in history, and vetoed legislation to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

"Joe Biden has a history of working with working families and their organizations and unions and has supported the right to organize," Mr. Bloomingdale said.

In April 2019, Biden spoke at a rally in support of striking Stop and Shop Workers. 31,000 United Food and Commercial workers went on strike across New England. It lasted for 11 days and ultimately ended with the workers getting a raise and better health care coverage.

Former Vice President Joe Biden spoke at a rally in support of striking Stop and Shop workers.

"Unions built the middle Class" Biden said at the time. "There's only one reason why there's a 40-hour week, there's only one reason why there's Overtime. There's only one reason why these protections exist."

Mr. Bloomingdale pointed to the success labor unions have had even for workers who are not members of one.

"Hershey's is Union, Reese's is not. But the Reese's employees get paid as much because they don't want to be union. As many times as the chocolate workers have tried to organize, Reese's will raise the pay. So, you have a unionized facility making great Chocolate and Reese's they give their workers get whatever the chocolate workers negotiate, and that's what's kept them from being union."

The history of organized labor in the United States, and Pennsylvania in particular, has a dark past that a lot of people are not familiar with. But  This Thursday, September 10th, to give an example, is the anniversary of the Lattimer Massacre in Luzerne County.

In 1897, hundreds of striking coal miners demanding better pay and working conditions in the collieries. When their march took them through Lattimer, that's near Hazleton. 

At one point a posse, deputized by the Luzerne County Sheriff's Office, confronted the strikers, a fight ensued, and the posse shot and killed 19 of them. Most were shot in the back, believed to be running away.

"Unarmed immigrants who were marching for their rights... they were just gunned down by sheriffs and the police, much like you have right now." Mr. Bloomingdale said. "Any time any struggle that takes on the power system of the United States of America, whether it's the civil rights struggle or the labor rights, who takes on the millionaires and the billionaires, is going to be met with violence. They're going attack us, they always have and they always will."

After the Lattimer Massacre, membership in the United Mine Workers of American skyrocketed because of the nationwide outcry it received at the time.

While nationwide approval of unions has fluctuated over the years, recently approval has gone up. A new Gallup poll, released on Wednesday, shows approval of labor unions in the U.S. is at 65%. That's up significantly from the lowest approval rating unions had in 2009, when it was 48%.

In March, when the Novel Coronavirus outbreak in Pennsylvania began, Governor Tom Wolf ordered the shutdown of all non-life-essential businesses in the state to mitigate the spread of the virus. Bloomingdale says workers really stepped up to help at that moment.

"The impact has been pretty remarkable. As essential businesses, which are pretty unionized, grocery store workers, healthcare workers, you know the meat processing plants... of course our construction workers who make our roads safe and continue to work... and the labor movement is stepping up on community service, helping out with food and food banks."

He put an emphasis on unions' ability to use collective bargaining to guarantee they'll be safe from COVID-19 while working on the job, "in places that are unorganized, employees are hoping for PPE's at the bargaining table. With the union, the union can demand PPE's to work safe, because we have that voice at work."

That issue is already being felt in some Pennsylvania communities, where union workers have already striked because they say their healthcare coverage is being neglected and personal protective equipment isn't being included in their contracts. 

"We had a UAW facility out in Washington County that's been on strike for just about a year now over healthcare and pensions... but then we've seen some contracts, folks who have been able to get some hazard pay. I wouldn't say the pandemic has had one impact or another, except it has really improved solidarity." Bloomingdale said. 

On the matter of manufacturing jobs, the Trump campaign has been quick to criticize Joe Biden for his previous approval of Free Trade Agreements like NAFTA, which is partly responsible for the outsourcing of millions of manufacturing jobs to countries like Mexico. "Joe Biden wants to surrender your jobs to China" Trump said at a Campaign rally in Latrobe, PA last week.

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Bloomingdale explained the President has not done a good job at retaining or returning jobs to places like Pennsylvania, "we can certainly talk about what Trump's record has been. It's been terrible on bringing jobs back. All you have to do is look across the border in Lordstown, Ohio. He told people not to sell their houses, but General Motors closed the plant anyway."

"a lot of Democrats believed or bought into the whole free trade thing, that it would drive the economy and the labor movement has always been about fair trade. We have to trade, right? We have a lot of great goods that we want to sell to every other nation. We can make it better than anybody else." 

He appeared to be optimistic about Biden's stance on labor today, saying he believes the former vice president put the past behind him.

"I think a lot of folks have learned the lessons. If a politican can't grow, shame on them. I don't know where Trump was before 2016, but he heard the crowds and he jumped all over NAFTA, but he's never said anything about the Central America Free Trade Agreement... NAFTA kind of became the call to arms, but we've been fighting against free trade agreements for many years. We're for fair trade, and Joe Biden is for fair trade, and I think we're going to see a lot better considerations of worker protections and workers rights when we get to trade agreements in the future."

When asked what he thought about the President's move to kill the Trans-Pacific Partnership back in 2018, Bloomingdale said it was the Senate that did it in, Trump just put the final nail in the coffin. 

FOX43 reached out to the Trump Campaign for further comment about the President's policy and record of returning jobs to states like Pennsylvania, we have not heard back so far.

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