Who can beat Trump? Iowa union members tell presidential candidates that's No. 1 issue

2020 presidential hopefuls make rounds at Cedar Rapids Labor Day picnic

CEDAR RAPIDS — Regardless of who wins the Democratic nomination, union members say they stand ready to make sure there’s a new president in the White House in 2021.

“Whatever it takes,” retired Teamster Gary Dunham said Monday during the Hawkeye Area Labor Council’s annual Labor Day Picnic. “I’ll do anything necessary to make sure the catastrophe is removed from the White House.

“I’m embarrassed, and I think a lot of Americans are, too,” Dunham added.

Union members who gathered at Hawkeye Downs for food, music and a handful of 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls may have a favorite candidate or a shortlist of favorites. However, many said it’s too early to decide who they will caucus for in February. And while their top concerns are health care, guns and climate change, the overriding concern among union members was which candidate can beat President Donald Trump.

“Whoever our candidate is, we’ll get behind him or her,” said Bill Gerhard, president of the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council.

David Stephen of Cedar Rapids, a member of Carpenters 308, told Joe Biden he would caucus for the former vice president, “because there’s no other candidate who can match your record support, and that’s why I’ll be standing for you at caucus.”

“The question is which one of these folks can beat Trump,” Stephen later explained. “So I think he has a lot of union support, and that’s the main reason why.”

Stephen’s brother, Jeff, also a Carpenters 308 member, agreed.

“I’ve followed Joe Biden most of my adult life,” he said. “He’s a pro, and if you’re not a pro, you have no business being in this race.”


“Look who we got now,” Richard Julius chimed in. “We have to win. We can’t do this again.”

David Stephen’s wife, Margi, a retired Whirlpool machinist, said that “if (Biden’s) the one who can beat Trump, then I agree.” However, she said she’s also looking at Elizabeth Warren, “so I’m a little undecided.”

Biden: It’s about bringing world together

Biden said the election should be about the future. The Democratic nominee has to have plans to grow the economy and deal with climate change, he said.

“The next president has to be able to stand on the world stage and immediately command the respect of the rest of the world,” Biden said.

Unless the president can bring the world together, he or she will be unable to get anything done on climate change, trade or “virtually any of the things that are of consequence to us in terms of our national security,” Biden said.

Klobuchar’s ‘Optimistic economic agenda’

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar made her case for being the one who can beat Trump, telling the union members and their families that unlike the president, she really means it when she promises to have their back.

“A lot of people, not just union members, who voted for Barack Obama thought, ‘Well, (Trump’s) going to build things, he’s going to look out for us,’” she said. “Well, that just hasn’t happened. Look at the tax bill. A big percentage of the money went to the wealthy. He could have used that for infrastructure, but he didn’t. He said he would do something about pharmaceuticals and he hasn’t helped with that.

“There’s just a number of things where he hasn’t kept his promises to them,” Klobuchar said.

In contrast, Klobuchar said, she’s campaigning on Midwestern and union values “and a case for an optimistic economic agenda for this country.”

Bullock says he’ll fight for unions

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock talked up his experience as a union-side labor lawyer before he ran for office. Union membership is about half what it was in 1980, he said, noting there are twice as many independent contractors as union members, and 60 percent of Americans haven’t had a pay increase in real terms.

“So it’s folks like this that are going to decide not only the next election, but the way to get our economy working for all of us,” Bullock said.


Union members, he said, are frustrated that when Trump ran he said he would have labor’s back, but that hasn’t been the case.

Labor needs someone at the top of the ticket to help unions regain their collective bargaining rights at the state and federal levels, Bullock said.

“So we need to get someone who has actually fought for union members, and that’s been part of the fight of my whole career,” he said.

As the only 2020 Democratic presidential candidate who won a statewide election in a Trump state, Bullock said he believes he can win back areas in Iowa and elsewhere that flipped from voting for Barack Obama to supporting Trump in 2016.

“Union members I talk to don’t want free everything. They want a fair shot,” Bullock said.

Buttigieg cites vision for economic future

South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg wandered the picnic grounds talking about his support for organized labor and listening to what’s on union members’ minds to “make sure what we are emphasizing in our campaign is responsive to what people are most worried about and most hopeful about here in Iowa.”

If he’s elected president, Buttigieg said union members would see a “proudly pro-union White House” and an administration with a vision for the country’s economic future that “recognizes the need for us to support organized labor as one of the ways we extend economic opportunity in this country.

“We cannot go on in this pattern we’ve been in where it has become possible for the GDP to go up and life expectancy to go down, for the economy to grow massively and half of Americans barely see their incomes budge over a 40-year period,” Buttigieg said. “It’s not acceptable. It’s not inevitable. We’re going to change it.”

Also attending the Cedar Rapids picnic was Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.

“The fact of the matter is, I am with organized labor,” Biden told reporters who trailed him around the picnic for two hours.


“I think we’re going to have a greater sense of participation in making sure that worker rights are protected than we’ve had in 10 to 15 years.”

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