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Biden scores big union wins on train trek through Western Pennsylvania

News Source

It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood Wednesday for former Vice President Joe Biden as he ventured deep into what was the heart of Trump country in Westmoreland County in 2016 to pick up endorsements from two unions that represent 950,000 working people.

Fresh from the spectacle of Tuesday night’s presidential debate in Cleveland and a morning whistle-stop where he greeted supporters at a train station in Alliance, Ohio, Biden and his wife, Jill, headed for friendly territory in Pittsburgh.

There he greeted a small crowd of supporters at a closed event, before continuing on to Greensburg by train, where a crowd of supporters lined the streets to greet him. After that, he headed for a motorcade to a union training center in New Alexandria where he would pick up union endorsements.

He ended the evening in a closed meeting at DiSalvo’s Station Restaurant at the Latrobe train station with a handful of invited supporters. The disappointed crowd outside that had hoped to get a glimpse of the Democratic candidate sang “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” the theme song of Latrobe-native Fred Rogers’ children’s television show, while a group of Trump supporters chanted “Go home Joe.”

The train tour again underscored the swing-state battle for Pennsylvania that Biden is locked into with President Trump. Although Trump won Westmoreland County by a tw0-to-one margin as he took the state by 44,000 votes four years ago, he lost both Allegheny County and Philadelphia — the state’s two biggest voting centers. Moreover, a recent poll suggested Biden recently pulled ahead by double digits among registered voters in the must-win Keystone State, with its 20 Electoral College votes.

Trump has made five visits to the state in as many weeks, hosting airport rallies that attracted thousands of supporters — many often standing shoulder to shoulder and few wearing masks.

Biden, by contrast, has limited attendance at his events, requiring masks and going so far as to sit invited guests in so-called social distance circles — which his advance team places on the floor to ensure people remain 6 feet apart.

Speaking first in Pittsburgh and later in New Alexandria, Biden hearkened back to his working-class roots in Scranton.

Joining the train tour in Pittsburgh were Democratic U.S. Reps. Mike Doyle of Forest Hills and Conor Lamb of Mt. Lebanon, along with Tom Conway, international president of the United Steelworkers union.

“The iron workers, steelworkers — they built this town and the beautiful bridges that make Pittsburgh famous,” Biden said.

“We know who Donald Trump is, who he cares about and how he governs. We saw last night, it’s all about him. He didn’t speak to you in that debate, he spoke about him,” Biden said.

“He cares only about what the super rich and the well-connected think,” Biden said. “It’s about time we start rewarding work and not wealth.”

In New Alexandria, where he toured a facility used to train heavy-equipment operators, Biden accepted endorsements from the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners and the International Union of Operating Engineers. Between them, the two unions represent nearly a million members.

Union officials conceded they are concerned about whether the rank-and-file will honor those endorsements.

Jim Kunz, business manager of Local 66 of the Operating Engineers International Union, which represents nearly 8,000 members in Western Pennsylvania and three eastern Ohio counties, said he’s trying to be sure his members realize that the appointments Trump has made to the federal bench and the National Labor Relations Board have been devastating to working men and women.

Kunz said he believes Biden’s earlier comments about limits on fracking were misconstrued and he stands with the union workers in Pennsylvania’s natural gas fields.

Likewise, union officials are asking members to put their employment ahead of other concerns they may have about the Biden-Harris ticket and fears they might support limits on gun rights.

“What we’re trying to explain is that union labor, working families cannot withstand another four years of assaults on the middle class,” said Bill Sproule, executive secretary-treasurer of the Eastern Atlantic Regional Council of Carpenters.

Biden, himself, seemed to concede he had ventured into less-than-friendly territory.

“A lot of people around here voted for Donald Trump the last time, and I get it,” Biden said. “I understand why.”

But he insisted he understands those who feel they have been forgotten.

“I hear them. I respect them. I know them. They are family,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, a surrogate for the Trump campaign, questioned whether union members will buy Biden’s claims.

“Like Trump said (Tuesday) night: The president has done more for America in 47 months than Biden has in 47 years,” said Reschenthaler, who represents Pennsylvania’s 14th Congressional District spanning Fayette, Greene and Washington counties and parts of Westmoreland County. “At the end of the day, the rank-and-file workers will still overwhelmingly vote for President Trump.”

Speaking to the small group of workers in hardhats at the union training center, where apprentices were training on cranes and giant earth-moving machines, Biden emphasized his longstanding relationship with unions. He recalled how union supporters rescued his first Senate campaign when he was a 29-year-old, first-time candidate in 1972.

“There was an old expression when I was growing up: ‘You go home with them that brought you to the dance.’ And labor brought me to the dance a long time ago,” Biden said. “They’re the ones — the operating engineers and the carpenters early on the first time I ran — people who laid the tracks and the pipelines, who operate the cranes and shape the skylines and build the foundation of everything we rely on, labor brought me to the dance.

“And that is not an exaggeration,” he said. “It is the only reason I’m standing here as a candidate for president.”

He promised that if elected, unions would have a seat at the table in Washington, D.C.

“Collective bargaining would be sacred. It’s a guarantee. And union apprenticeships would be sacred,” Biden said, before heading to Latrobe and even deeper into Trump country, to Johnstown, for his final rally of the day.

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