Iowa’s SEIU Members Are Making Our Voice Heard in the 2020 Presidential Campaign

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Local 199 President Cathy Glasson speaks at our June 9 march and rally in Cedar Rapids

Every four years, as the race for president begins, the eyes of America turn to Iowa. And this year Americans are seeing Iowa’s SEIU members front and center at campaign events across the state.

We’re making our voice heard in the presidential race like never before. All the way back in April, SEIU activists were attending campaign events — not to endorse candidates, but to ensure that they’re committed to working families and our issues.

Our members have already been face-to-face with Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and many other candidates. We’ve asked them point-blank how they’ll fight for every American’s right to a good union job.

In previous elections, many candidates refused to take a strong stand for workers. But this year is different. A Washington Post story highlighted our June 9th “worker’s march” outside a big Democratic Party event in Cedar Rapids. The Post said SEIU members’ work in Iowa and elsewhere is a big reason that candidates this year are standing in “solidarity with unions and low-wage workers.”

If you’d like to get involved with this historic work, just email us at: member@seiuiowa.org. And if you’d like to learn more about it, keep reading this story on the progress we’ve already made.

Putting Unions On Stage in Iowa City & On the Menu in Tipton

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SEIU Faculty Forward member Packy Moran with Kamala Harris after their Unions for All Q & A

SEIU members have gone to campaign events in Iowa’s smallest towns and biggest cities, and we’ve put working families and union rights on the agenda at every one.

One of the first events where it became clear that SEIU members were shifting this year’s debate was at Sen. Kamala Harris’ April 10 town hall in Iowa City.

The Iowa Memorial Union was packed as Harris started fielding questions from the audience. SEIU Faculty Forward member Packy Moran got up and explained how he and other non-tenure track faculty at the University of Iowa have been fighting to win fair treatment at the university.

Then Moran asked whether Harris would support unions for faculty, and for every worker no matter where they work. The crowd erupted in applause, and Harris gave a long and positive response to Moran’s question. (See the video here.)

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SEIU and Fight for $15 members with Elizabeth Warren

Soon after that, our members made the trip to Tipton, where Sen. Elizabeth Warren was holding a meet-and greet at a family restaurant. We made sure our message was on the menu.

Members from SEIU, along with McDonald’s workers from the Fight for $15 and activists from the grassroots group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) went up to Warren and asked how she’d ensure that workers in America have a real shot at organizing and keeping their unions. Unsurprisingly, Warren had a plan for that. (See the video here.)

Warren offered a two-part plan on how to restore worker rights in America: 1) get back to a card-check system for organizing like there was when unions rose up in the 1930s and started building the middle class; and 2) make sure the federal labor board stands up for workers instead of corporations.

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SEIU and Fight for $15 activists meet with Joe Biden at his Iowa kick-off

When Joe Biden launched his presidential campaign in Iowa in late April, we were on hand again. Our activists spoke directly with the former vice president at several events. And we didn’t just pose for selfies, we pressed ahead with our Unions for All message. Like all the candidates we’ve met with so far, Biden took our question and gave an encouraging answer.

Of course, we know that words alone won’t fix what ails working people in America. That’s why we’re also calling on candidates to take concrete actions — like standing with us on picket lines — to show that they’re serious about supporting workers. And yes, we’ve already had success on that front.

Make Our Wages Supersized!

Since 2012, SEIU members have stood side by side with McDonald’s workers in the Fight for $15 to win a $15 minimum wage and a union for every worker in America. We’ve taken that work to the next level this election season.

In early May, Cassie Wilmeth, our chapter president at Greater Regional Medical Center in Creston, wrote an op-ed in the Des Moines Register supporting the federal Raise the Wage Act, which would set a $15 minimum wage across the country.

Then, on May 23, the Fight for $15 came to Iowa in force, as McDonald’s workers in both Cedar Rapids and Des Moines joined a nationwide one-day strike of the fast-food chain. Local 199 members from the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) walked the picket line with McDonald’s workers in Cedar Rapids and helped to garner front-page coverage in the Gazette.

Then our allies at CCI helped us pull off a major strike and rally at a McDonald’s in Des Moines. They mobilized their statewide network of activists and helped us draw a crowd of hundreds to the noon rally there. Presidential candidate and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also attended, and we got live coverage on WHO-TV and another front-page story in the Des Moines Register.

All for Unions & Unions for All

While the May 23rd mobilization was impressive enough, our next action — the June 9th march and rally in Cedar Rapids — was an even bigger success.

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Local 199 member Barb Stanerson, a UIHC physical therapist, speaks at our June 9th march and rally in Cedar Rapids.

Our action was timed to coincide with a meeting of 19 presidential candidates in Cedar Rapids. We worked again with the Fight for $15 and CCI and built on our May 23rd momentum, launching another one-day strike of the local McDonald’s.

This time Sen. Bernie Sanders joined us on the picket line, and he marched with us to the convention center where the candidates were meeting. With an even bigger crowd than we had on May 23rd, we drew national TV coverage and again dominated local news.

With our big “Unions for All” banner out front, we made it clear that our goal this year isn’t to save what we can for labor’s remaining members. It’s to expand our movement so we can help every worker in America.

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