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Gephardt Works Hard For Labor Vote

CBS News Reporter Ben Ferguson is traveling with the Gephardt campaign.



With an abandoned steel mill looming in the background of his campaign rally, Rep. Dick Gephardt invited on stage 30 former steel workers who lost their jobs when Georgetown Steel closed its doors in late October.

"South Carolina has lost a greater percentage of jobs than any other state over the past year," said Gephardt. Jobs that have gone to places like China and Mexico because of unfair trade treaties with no labor provisions, he said.

Gephardt's promise of a revitalized economy and his focus on "jobs, jobs, jobs" have made him the darling of many in the labor community. He has won the endorsement of 21 international labor unions and continues to portray himself as the advocate of the working man and woman. "My father was teamster and a milk truck driver. It was the best job he ever had," says Gephardt.

While his labor roots have helped him in many states, South Carolina will be difficult for him to win precisely because there are so few unions there and what many feel have been too many broken promises.

Holding his unemployment check in his hands, Jason Ford of Georgetown says he has heard others give the same speech but is hopeful one day the plant will reopen. "I hope he is not just singing it. We are ready for him to bring it. We need it," Ford said.

Gephardt hopes to "bring it" to places like Iowa, where his labor organization is strong and where he is locked in a dead heat with Democratic frontrunner Howard Dean. Gov. Dean derailed the Gephardt campaign's hopes of capturing the endorsement of all of organized labor, including the coveted AFL-CIO, when two of the nation's largest unions, AFSCME and SEIU, came out in favor of Dean late last year. But it remains to be seen if those "less traditional" service union members will help Dean win in Iowa.

"They are a different crew of people," said Chuck Rocha, Gephardt's labor coordinator. "It takes motivation to get out the vote on caucus night. Our union members have felt the brunt of this economy. They are worried, they are anxious and they are motivated," he said about the traditional union members such as autoworkers and teamsters. Motivation is important in a state like Iowa where knocking on doors and getting people to the polls on caucus night can mean the difference between winning and loosing.

When describing the difference between himself and the other candidates Gephardt usually says that he is only one who opposed NAFTA and the China agreement. He notes that while Dean and Wesley Clark did not vote on the bills, they wrote letters and gave speeches in favor of NAFTA. Recently, talk-show tapes of Dean show he had doubts about NAFTA as early as 1998, countering Gephardt's claim that Dean's change in trade policy is simply an effort to get votes in the primary.

Gephardt maintains that globalization is inevitable and insists he is not anti-trade. He says he is, however, against policies that allow companies to flee the U.S. in search of cheaper labor, creating what he calls "a race to the bottom." His answer would be to institute an international minimum wage that would be different in different countries but begin to bring worldwide labor standards up.

Wherever Gephardt goes on the campaign trail, labor issues aren't far behind. During a roundtable discussion this week with representatives of the sugar beet industry of Red River Valley, N.D., a local labor leader, Mark Fromeke, reached into a bag and removed a home plate from a baseball field. He had taken it from a small North Dakota town that no longer has enough kids to play a game. He gave the plate to the congressman so he would remember how people are being drained out of the upper Midwest due to NAFTA and the proposed Central American free trade agreement's effect on local industry. "Our voices may not be as loud because there are fewer of us, but we want you to still remember us here in the valley," said Fromeke.

Gephardt, who was noticeably moved by the gesture, not only remembers Fromeke but has incorporated him into his stump speech. The question remains, however, whether the voters of Sioux City, Iowa; Fargo, N.D.; and Georgetown, S.C., will remember to vote for Dick Gephardt.

By Ben Ferguson

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