Sanders spoke in front of a crowd of approximately 200 people at the local Chapter 174 of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada (UA) on April 13 to discuss issues that could shape the 2020 presidential election.
Sanders spoke about health care, livable wages, unionization efforts, criminal justice reform, pension reform and more.
“We are going to deal with the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality in America,” Sanders said. “We want a government and an economy that works for all of us, not just the 1 percent.
“If you work in America for 40 hours a week, you should not be living in poverty. We’re going to raise the minimum wage to a living wage — 15 bucks an hour.”
Sanders also added, “We don’t think it makes a lot of sense that women earn 80 cents on the dollar compared to men.”
He spent the bulk of his time ensuring attendees that he would fight to protect the middle class. He added that strong trade deals and strong unions were vital to middle class success in America.
“I happen to believe from the bottom of my heart, when you look at the decline of the American middle class over the last 40 years, you are seeing a parallel decline in the trade union movement,” Sanders said.
“If we want to grow the middle class in America, we have got to grow the trade union movement.”
Sanders explained his legislative efforts to protect working-class citizens.
“We’ve laid the groundwork for growing the trade union movement,” he said. “We need a trade policy that works for workers, not just the CEOs of large corporations.”
After Sanders’ speech, he fielded questions from UA members and others in the audience. Johnny Ortiz, a UA member and veteran, asked the senator what he planned to do about homelessness among veterans.
“It is disheartening, when I see a lot of the homeless veterans,” Ortiz said. “What are you prepared to do for my brothers and sisters that wore that uniform that are homeless, that can’t afford the insurance?”
Sanders replied that his track record of pro-veteran legislation has resonated among veterans.
“Can you think about a nation in which the very very rich get rich (and are) not paying their taxes, and we have people who put their lives on the line to defend this country sleeping out on the streets?” Sanders said. “Unacceptable, it is a disgrace to what this country is supposed to stand for.”
Sanders criticized President Donald Trump for what he characterized as privatizing veteran health care. Sanders said that proper health care for veterans, and efforts like filling vacancies in the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) would help American veterans.
Sanders concluded his speech by saying that the country’s current priorities are out of place.
“We’ve got to stand up and demand a change in our national priorities,” he said. “That means our priorities have got to be focused on our needs, our working families, our children, our elderly, our vets, our disabled. Those people who are entitled to live a good life and in many cases are not doing that.”
After the event, UA 174 business manager Ryan Bennett said he was glad that members had the chance to hear from Sanders.
“Any time we have an opportunity for our members to hear from a presidential candidate, we’re going to jump on it,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether they’re progressive like Bernie or more conservative, our members run the gamut from the political spectrum. We just want them to engage and make intelligent, informed political decisions when they cast their ballot.”
Bennett, who described himself as progressive, said he thinks Sanders is an ideal candidate for working-class Americans.
“I think his message resonates well for union members because he’s not afraid to campaign on his union beliefs,” he said. “It seems like a lot of other Democratic and somewhat progressive candidates shy away from saying the word ‘unions.’ You don’t hear the same degree, when speaking in public, of support for unions that you see with Senator Sanders. And it’s been consistent throughout his career.”
Sanders is seeking the presidency for the second time — he also ran in 2016, losing the Democratic primary to Hillary Clinton.
Michigan is one of several key battleground states that could decide the Democratic primary and the 2020 general election. Sanders won Michigan in the 2016 primary against former Secretary of State Clinton, but Trump won the state in the presidential race, along with several other Midwestern swing states like Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.
Sanders visited those states as well as Indiana during a weekend campaign tour, aiming to connect with working class voters who could decide how the election plays out next year.