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Unions Unify Behind Obama

Nearly 2,500 labor union activists and delegates met to rally support for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) Sunday afternoon at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver.

“I can look at Barack Obama and say, ‘This is my candidate,'” said Arlene Holt-Baker, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO. “But what makes me proud is that every working person in America can look at Barack Obama and say, ‘This is my candidate, too.’”

John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, said 250,000 union members would be knocking on doors and making phone calls to promote Obama’s candidacy on Thursday, the night he accepts his nomination.

And Steve Skvara, a retired steelworker who spoke of how he was forced into retirement by a disability, also discussed the need to unify behind Obama.

“We are coming together to unify ourselves because as a union we are stronger and as a people we are stronger,” he said.

When his company went bankrupt, Skvara was left with only one-third of his pension and none of the health care benefits. Faced with the decision of only being able to afford health care for him or his wife, Skvara was convinced to get health care for him only.

Many of the 18 speakers spoke at length of the importance of passing the Employee Free Choice Act, legislation that would reform laws governing union representation and require court arbitration if collective bargaining contracts were not reached within 120 days. Event organizers elicited donations and signatures in support of the bill, which passed the House in 2007 before the Senate invoked cloture.

Obama, who co-sponsored the bill, has said he would sign on to the legislation if elected. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee, voted to block the bill.

While businesses were criticized for stifling labor union pleas, the harshest barbs of the afternoon were reserved for President Bush and McCain.

A potential McCain presidency was portrayed as four more years of Bush policies, as speakers referred to the Arizona Senator as “McSame” and “McBush.”

And a standing ovation greeted speaker Ted Kennedy Jr., son of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who underwent surgery in June to remove a brain tumor.

“Your cards and prayers are working,” the younger Kennedy said. “My father is getting better.”