Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, talks Aug. 21 with The Jefferson Herald at Cobblestone Hotel & Suites. Sanders released a plan to boost workers’ rights and labor unions that morning.

Bernie slept here: Sanders stays night at Cobblestone

By DOUGLAS BURNS

d.burns@carrollspaper.com

Wage stagnation is cratering the American middle class and dealing future generations fewer prospects for economic stability than their parents, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said Aug. 21 in Jefferson.

Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, spoke to The Jefferson Herald at Cobblestone Hotel & Suites, where he stayed the night before, about his just-released “Workplace Democracy” plan that would, among other things, eliminate right-to-work laws and ban the use of replacement workers by businesses to end strikes. 

Sanders also would sign an executive order preventing companies from landing federal contracts if they outsource jobs overseas or pay a minimum wage of less than $15 an hour, the senator said.

“Here is the reality: for the last 45 years, there has a been a war against working people in this country,” Sanders said. “What we have seen is despite a huge increase in technology and worker productivity, the average American worker today is making in real inflation-accounted-for dollars exactly what he or she made 45 years ago.”

Here’s how that shakes out: Over the last 30 years, the top 1 percent has seen a $21 trillion increase in their wealth while the bottom 50 percent of Americans have had a $900 billion decrease in their wealth, Sanders said.

“Massive amounts of income and wealth are going to the top 1 percent,” Sanders said. “That is the dynamic of the American economy today. Half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck.”

One primary reason for this is the assault on labor unions, organizations that have helped workers across the board, even those who aren’t members, Sanders said, adding that employers can fire workers with impunity and send jobs to Mexico or China.

He wants to see millions of more Americans in unions.

“It is very difficult for workers to form unions,” Sanders said. “We are basically going to create a level playing field, which essentially says if workers want to join a union they will be able to do so.”

Sanders conducted the interview just weeks before Jefferson will celebrate the opening of Pillar Technology’s Forge, a computer-software company branch on the Square.

Sanders’ national campaign co-chairman, Congressman Ro Khanna, D-Calif., has played a pivotal role with the Pillar project and in connecting Jefferson with Silicon Valley leaders and organizations to extend digital job growth to rural areas of the nation, with Pillar serving as a model for future high-tech development on the prairie.

“Ro’s view, and I agree with it, is that we are seeing the development of good-paying jobs on the West Coast, you are seeing it on the East Coast, but there are large parts of America, especially rural America, which are not attracting those jobs,” Sanders said. “In fact, you have a lot of great workers out there who would like to do this kind of work.”

Khanna will be one of the keynote speakers Sept. 7 for Pillar’s slate of opening-day activities.

“I applaud Ro for what he is doing, and look forward to seeing the success of this operation,” Sanders said.

In the interview, Sanders took issue with Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King’s assertion that rape and incest were essential parts of the development of civilization, that there may not be a human population, or much of one, if rape and incest were subtracted from historical reproduction.

King made the controversial comments to reinforce his opposition to abortion in cases of rape and incest — drawing more national attention to his provocative politics.

“There’s nobody who knows Iowa who doesn’t understand that the people of this state are decent, good, hard-working people,” Sanders said. “To have somebody who is such a blatant racist and right-wing extremist is not reflective of the people of Iowa and I hope that his political career will be ending in a fairly short period of time.”

On Social Security, Sanders calls for scrapping the $132,900 cap and applying the payroll tax to all earnings over $250,000, which he said would preserve Social Security for a half century and allow for the expansion of benefits across-the-board

“To cut Social Security benefits would be an outrage and something that is completely unacceptable,” Sanders said.

The Vermont senator, who represents a heavily agricultural state, says climate change affects the well-being of farmers and ag businesses in Iowa. He’s calling for a speedy and massive investment in sustainable energy sources.

What does climate change mean for the Iowa farmer?

“Well, it will mean significant crop reduction, no question about it,” Sanders said. “The kind of heat scientists are anticipating will mean a reduction in the kind of production we’re seeing in Iowa and around the rest of the country.”

For any action to occur, climate change advocates for the environment — those who don’t want to see the Earth spin into an uninhabitable furnace — will have to break through support President Donald Trump has with farmers and in rural America generally.

“I think no matter what your political point of view you cannot argue with science, and the science is very clear, the physics is very clear, the Earth is warming,” Sanders said. “It is warming much more rapidly than scientists previously thought it would. They are telling us we have fewer than 12 years to bring about the bold changes we need.”

“I beg people, don’t simply listen to Trump’s rants on this issue,” Sanders said. “Check out what the scientists are saying.”

In a light moment in the interview, Sanders talked about recently hosting a softball game at the “Field of Dreams” site in Dyersville. Sanders even has a baseball card of himself now.

“I’m reminded of the line in the film, ‘Field of Dreams,’” Sanders said. “We were there at the sunset. I had the whole family there, my two sons, my grandson, (wife) Jane, was there.”

Sanders was referencing the movie’s iconic exchange between Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella and his father, “Is this heaven? It’s Iowa.”

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