‘It’s about respect’

Jackie Valley

Biden talks labor issues with Akron union members

VIEW a photo gallery of Biden in Canton.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Joe Biden used his middle class and Catholic roots to connect with laborers at a campaign stop in Akron yesterday.

Biden told the crowd filled with union members – in addition to Gov. Ted Strickland, Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic and CBS anchor Katie Couric – that the Democrats’ view of labor is one of the defining differences between the Barack Obama and John McCain campaigns.

“John McCain has been a soldier along with Bush in a war, and I’m not talking about the war in Afghanistan or the war in Iraq,” he said. “This administration has declared a war on labor’s house.

“There has been a war going on from the day they took office.”

Strickland said he was happy to be in the company of the “salt-of-the-earth, hard-working men and women” of Ohio while introducing Biden at the Laborers International Union of North America building.

Many in the audience of more than 150 people sported shirts declaring their unions’ support for Obama and Biden.

Biden blamed the Republicans for taking power away from those people in unions – organizations he called necessary to the preservation of the middle class – by citing the importance of collective bargaining.

“Where I come from – not a joke, not a joke – it’s about more than a paycheck,” he said. “It’s about respect.”

Biden’s remarks targeting the Republicans for the shrinking middle class and volatile economy came a day after the stock market sustained a 449-point loss.

“What’s been happening on main street all of a sudden hit Wall Street, and all of a sudden, as we Catholics like to say, there’s been a conversion on the way to Damascus,” Biden said. “John (McCain) has fallen off his horse.

“He’s looked up and said, ‘Oh my Lord, there’s greed.'”

But Biden said McCain’s general agreement with Bush on economy matters illustrate that he “got on the same horse again,” despite talking about regulation and transparency in business.

“You can say it, but that doesn’t mean it’s real,” he said, referring to McCain’s message of change.

Instead, Biden said he and Obama will help restore the middle class by investing $70 billion each year to create two million jobs that would pay an average annual salary of $50,000.

Democrat Renee Greene, Akron City Council member for Ward 4, said Biden’s message resonates with many residents because of his similar background.

“Most of our larger churches are Catholic,” she said. “Most of the people in the area are middle class. I just wish we could have done this in a larger arena.”

Akron resident Mary Sitko, who is president of the local American Postal Workers Union, came to the campaign rally with two union friends. All three wore shirts supporting their union.

“The middle class – it’s distant,” she said. “It’s not the middle class we once knew. I feel badly for the people just starting out.”

After Biden’s speech, union members flanked Couric for pictures. Couric interviewed Biden afterwards on his campaign bus en route to a Youngstown event. The segment aired on “CBS Evening News” last night.

During his visit, Biden took a stab at Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin for not doing many interviews. Biden said he’s done more than 60 interviews with the press.

“When an elected official stops holding press conferences, it’s not because he’s found a new way of communicating,” he said.

Biden spoke in Canton at the Pro Football Hall of Fame before arriving in Akron as part of his bus tour through northern Ohio. After the Akron stop, Biden headed to Youngstown for an event.

Contact public affairs reporter Jackie Valley at [email protected].