The state council of the Service Employees International Union, as well as the union's councils from nine other states, endorsed former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards' bid for the Democratic presidential nomination at a rally on the University of Iowa's medical campus on Monday.
Cathy Glasson, the president of the union's Local 199, said the UI was the perfect place to hold the event because her union represents many University of Iowa Health Center employees. Because it includes so many nurses, the labor organization's members are some of the most informed healthcare voters in the country, she said.
"I've seen the effects that an ailing healthcare system has had not only on patients but on healthcare providers," Glasson said.
The Iowa branch of the union has approximately 2,000 members. Its endorsement comes at a time when polls indicate that Edwards' popularity in Iowa has declined in recent months.
In May, the Des Moines Register found that Edwards led the Democratic field in Iowa with 29 percent support. By the beginning of October, however, he had fallen into second place with 23 percent, six points behind New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Entering the room from the back, Edwards passed through the crowd and shook hands on his way to the stage.
"These are men and women I know well, because I didn't just appear before them trying to get political support," Edwards said, arguing that the union's cause is his cause and that he has a long history of working with labor.
The former senator said organized labor's goal is to make sure that no one in the United States lives in poverty despite working full-time. Providing healthcare to all Americans is the first step toward assuring that people don't find themselves in such a position, he said.
"Our healthcare system does not work, and no one understands that better than the men and women behind me here today," Edwards said, motioning towards the union representatives present at the event.
If elected president, the former senator said he would take immediate action to mandate universal health insurance in the United States. Recognizing that congressional approval is necessary to move forward with any such legislation, Edwards threatened to fight to take away the health plans of the members of Congress if they fail to work towards universal coverage.
Pledging that his plan would cover pre-existing conditions, mental-health issues, and treatment for chronic diseases, Edwards said it would cost between $90 billion and $120 billion per year. He said he would come up with the necessary funds by repealing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
Though his speech focused largely on health care, he also discussed union issues more broadly, arguing that organized labor remains important in American society.
"If we want to grow and strengthen the middle class in this country, then we must grow and strengthen the labor movement," he said.
Nathan Willems, an attorney in Cedar Rapids, said he supports Edwards because the former senator is the candidate most likely to address issues important to him.
"When it comes to issues of poverty, health care, and workers' rights, the choice is obvious," he said.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa, union member Marshall Clemons said Edwards' background and sincerity are key to him.
"He just seems genuine to me," Clemons said. "He represents character, and that's something the country hasn't seen in a long time."
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© 2007 The Daily Iowan via U-WIRE