By CBS3 Staff


PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Philadelphia was on the national stage on Tuesday afternoon when seven Democratic presidential candidates made passionate pitches to union members at a jobs summit. The union vote in Pennsylvania has become a key focus heading into the 2020 election.

With President Donald Trump winning Pennsylvania in 2016, Philadelphia’s unions want to make sure a Democrat secures the White House in 2020. But first, they must decide which candidate they’ll endorse.

Thousands of union members across the Delaware Valley — from communication workers to roofers to electricians — met at the Pennsylvania Convention Center on Tuesday to hear how several Democratic presidential candidates plan to protect them.

“All my career, I’ve been called Middle Class Joe,” former Vice President Joe Biden said.

Biden and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders were some of the high-profile presidential candidates who stopped by the Convention Center.

Biden was the first to take the stage and says the economy should focus around unions.

“Biden votes union and union votes Biden. It’s the only way to grow America,” he said. “We grow when you are engaged and able to make a decent wage for all the efforts you make because that’s how you grow the country.”

From Biden speaking about job security to businessman Andrew Yang describing how he’s working to get a friend’s union certified, to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio saying he would ax the tax incentive for companies that automate factories, seven candidates each took questions from union members.

“Right now employers have a boot on your throat, they know you cannot go months without a salary,” Yang said. “This is how we change the game to work for you all and to work for the United States of America.”

Sanders called for American corporations to stop cutting benefits and to be good citizens, using the General Motors workers’ strike in Langhorne as an example.

Ian Weissman has a 2-year-old and a 7-year-old at home. He says his wife was let go during the Hahnemann University Hospital closure, when Sanders was the only candidate to come to Philly.

“We’re doing fine but that I appreciated that he was there and on the picket line and at the protest. So it shows he’s actually there for the working people,” Weissman said of Sanders.

Perhaps the most concerning issue was health care.

“Biggest issue for us is job security, health care,” one union member said.

“I would say health care,” another union member said.

Many blue-collar workers have no health insurance like Fatoumata Kaba.

Kaba works at LSG Sky Chefs by the Philadelphia International Airport. She says the Airplane Food Distribution Center offers health insurance, but for her and her two children, it would cost her a couple hundred dollars a week.

“Three-hundred-twenty-dollars a week,” she said.

When asked how she can afford it, Kaba said, “I don’t know who — I don’t even make that so I cannot afford that.”

Of the 430 union members employed by Sky Chefs, about 140 — or just about one third — of them are enrolled in the company’s health care plan.

That’s why some candidates like Sanders believe in Medicare For All. Other candidates prefer a mixture of both Medicare For All with a private option.

“You can keep your health insurance plan you bargained for,” Biden said.

One of the Democratic frontrunners who was notably absent was Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. She previously said she believes in a Medicare For All Plan.

CBS3’s Matt Petrillo and Dan Koob contributed to this report.