Union Endorsements, Barack Obama
AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Dept.
Barack Obama greets Laborers' union supporter at building trades legislative conference.

While the Democratic Party remains divided over its candidate for the presidential elections in November, construction unions weighed in on the debate during the three-day Building and Construction Trades Dept. annual legislative conference in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Barack Obama, who has already been endorsed by the teamsters and plumbers' unions, addressed the conference April 15, while Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke the following day. Clinton has the endorsement of the bricklayers, sheetmetal workers, painters and the plasterers and cement masons unions.

Despite perceived divisions, both candidates hit on winning issues among union voters during the conference. Both vowed to be a friend to labor, reversing policies and practices under the Bush Administration that the candidates characterized as anti-union.

Union Endorsements, Hillary Clinton
AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades Dept.
Painters' union members show support for Hillary Clinton, their presidential candidate of choice.

"This is the most anti-labor administration in our memory," Obama said. "They don't believe in unions. They don't believe in organizing. They've packed the [National Labor Relations Board] with their corporate buddies. Well, we've got news for them — it's not the Department of Management, it's the Department of Labor, and we're here to take it back."

Clinton echoed that sentiment, promising to install pro-union nominees to lead the Dept. of Labor and the NLRB.

Both candidates also vowed to pass the Employee Free Choice Act, which would strengthen labor organizing practices. Clinton and Obama both forwarded universal health care as a way to remove health benefit issues from the bargaining table. "I'm tired of seeing union members having to spend all their time negotiating about the health care they already have when they should be negotiating for better wages that can support their families," Obama said.

The Bush Administration was also taken to task by the candidates for weakening the Davis-Bacon Act, particularly in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and banning project labor agreements on federal projects.

While the candidates remain essentially in lockstep on issues, the candidates and their supporters drew divisions based on experience and character � with Clinton supporters touting her longer track record and Obama backers rallying behind his fresh perspective. "If this were a hiring decision, who would you hire?" Clinton asked. "If you hire me, I�ll work my heart out for you."

But one union supporting Obama wants change. "We need a new direction and [Obama] is the guy who can do it," said William Hite, president of the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters.

Sen. John McCain was invited to speak, but did not attend the conference.

McCain spoke at the 2006 BCTD legislative conference and was soundly booed by the audience when he discussed his views on immigration, including guest-worker programs.