INTRO: Presumptive Democratic Presidential Nominee John Kerry, once a teamster himself addressed the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in Las Vegas Sunday. KNPR's Ky Plaskon was there.
PLASKON: Kerry is no stranger to unions. He reminisced about his college days and says he would not have earned the wages he did if it weren't for him being a member of the union.
KERRY: I was loading trucks and off loading trucks at first national city stores in Summerville Massachusetts and I learned how to wheel one of those electric carts around with a palate full to the top and take those turns and race better than anyone else in the place . . . I'm telling you.
DOWHAN: I did think it was rather amusing that he did come from just being a little guy to where he is today. I have a certificate to operate one of those machines, I wouldn't mind racing him . . . ha ha ha.
PLASKON: Debbie Dowhan sang the Canadian National Anthem and listened to Kerry's speech. She is the only woman in North American who drives a stringing truck or pull trailer, a dangerous job hauling 80 foot long, 4 foot wide pipe, with cables controlling rear steering across remote Canadian wilderness. She knows about the differences in labor law between countries, at least when she crosses from Canada to the United States.
DOWHAN: As of January 1 your trucking laws suck. To be perfectly honest. You have a 14 hour window to do basically 10 hours of driving and then you have 10 hours off. I am sorry I don't like being stuck in a truck stop for 10 hours when I am still wide awake."
PLASKON: Kerry would like labor laws abroad to more closely match the same laws as in the United States. Though a long-time supporter of free trade, he said that labor law in NAFTA for instance is not being enforced and that affords foreign companies an unfair advantage, able to produce products cheaper abroad than in the United States. He said that encourages a continual outflow of jobs to countries with less strict labor standards to produce products that are eventually sold here anyway and contributing to the nation's 500 billion dollar trade deficit. His approach is two-pronged, enforce the trade laws and eliminate taxpayer subsidies that also encourage companies to operate abroad. Along those lines, he would not sign a Central American free trade agreement in it's current form because it doesn't have the labor laws he wants in place and he would re-negotiate it if President Bush signs it into law.
KERRY: I will not sign an agreement that does not have decent labor standards and decent environment standards as part of that agreement . . we are going to negotiate those in the future.
PLASKON: In addition, if elected he intends to review every single trade law in the U-S.
KERRY: I will appoint a commission that has 120 days to report back to me and we will make certain what agreements are working for us and what agreements are not working for us.
PLASKON: The Bush campaign says the president is aggressively fighting trade cases and attacked Kerry for a plan to reverse the president's tax cuts. Tax cuts were issued by President Bush for those earning more than 200 thousand dollars a year. Kerry told the union he plans to turn those tax cuts around and give them to 98 percent of all Americans and 99 percent of businesses.
KERRY: Let me be clear, when I am president your taxes will go down so that your incomes can go up and that has not happened under this president.
PLASKON: He also promised to use the money to buy health insurance for 27 million more Americans. To the contrary, the Bush Campaign says Kerry will have to raise taxes to pay for such spending proposals. According to the Bush Campaign, Kerry has issued 73 different spending plans. Rolling back President Bush's tax cuts would generate 800 to 900 billion dollars. Kerry's health care plan would cost 650 billion over 10 years.
THROWER: If everything he says turns out to be true, he will certainly have my vote.
PLASKON: Gorge Thrower is a union member in Northern Nevada. And his reaction to Kerry's promises is exactly the kind of impact Kerry hoped to get here. Nevada is identified as one of at least 17 battleground states where the election is a toss-up. In January this year the there were 13-thousand more registered Republicans than Democrats in the state. In March that number had fallen to less than 9 thousand. The almost 150 thousand non-partisan voters and independents here could decide the election.
Ky Plaskon, News 88-9 KNPR
See discussion rules