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Elizabeth Warren vows Democrats ‘will be there for unions’

US Senator Elizabeth Warren accepted a pin from a group representing nurses at the Greater Boston Labor Council's Annual Labor Day Breakfast on Monday.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren accepted a pin from a group representing nurses at the Greater Boston Labor Council's Annual Labor Day Breakfast on Monday. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

Senator Elizabeth Warren on Monday extolled the power and covenant of unions, lambasted GOP efforts to undermine them, and pledged if voters give Democrats control of Congress in November, the party will have organized labor’s back.

“Here’s my promise,” Warren said, “you give Democrats power in Washington, you give us back the House and the Senate, and Democrats will be there for unions and for workers!”

At Massachusetts’ marquee Labor Day breakfast, the state’s top Democratic politicians and union leaders offered hosannas to organized labor, and argued though unions are under attack, the movement stands strong and will be stronger still if American voters cast Democrats back into power.

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“Let’s keep fighting every single day until November 6, and all the way to 2020, when we take back Washington for working families,” said Mayor Martin J. Walsh, a former union leader.

But on the day before Massachusetts' primary, there was more focus on the slew of contested races among Democrats. Candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, Congress, and district attorney made the rounds, gladhanding and rallying Massachusetts’ labor constituency, an often powerful force in the party’s primaries. Politicking is a decades-old tradition at the event, but candidates buzzed with unusual urgency less than 24 hours before polls opened on the unusual day-after-Labor-Day primary.

Gregory D. Henning, one of five Democrats running to be district attorney for Suffolk County, smiled and shook hands before the breakfast got underway. Jay Gonzalez and Bob Massie, the two Democrats running for governor, made their way around the cavernous hotel ballroom at the Boston Park Plaza, dispensing hugs and waves. Congressman Stephen F. Lynch, a onetime Iron Workers Union president, was greeted as a familiar friend by several attendees.

Both Congressman Michael E. Capuano and his challenger, Councilor Ayanna S. Pressley, worked the room. But only Capauno, who has received several key union endorsements in his primary, had a speaking slot, offering a 20-minute stemwinder that included a history of how unions have lifted up working people and his relationship with labor.

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“I’ve stood with you in every fight and you’ve stood with me, and that matters,” said the Somerville Democrat. “Neither one of us can succeed without the other. We need each other.”

Several speakers at the Greater Boston Labor Council breakfast referenced this year’s Supreme Court ruling in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The decision forbid public sector unions from charging nonmembers certain fees, seen as a huge blow to organized labor. But leaders spoke of the strength of their membership in the wake of the ruling.

Representative Mike Capuano (left) spoke with Warren at the breakfast.
Representative Mike Capuano (left) spoke with Warren at the breakfast. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

“Many people thought the Janus decision would be a deathknell for the public sector unions. They are wrong,” Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union said. “We are proud at the BTU that we have not had a single member drop their membership” she said, her voice drowned out by applause and cheers from hundreds munching on breakfast.

Senator Edward J. Markey was among those speakers who took aim at the President Trump, who has tried to roll back protections for federal workers and recently canceled a pay raise many were set to receive next year.

“The only federal worker whose job is guaranteed by Trump’s policies is special prosecutor Robert Mueller,” Markey said. “But Trump wants to fire him, too!” (Mueller is the special counsel investigating any links or coordination between the Russian government and Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.)

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Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley greeted a supporter at the breakfast. Pressley is running against Capuano in the Seventh District.
Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley greeted a supporter at the breakfast. Pressley is running against Capuano in the Seventh District.(Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

The state’s top law enforcement official also trained her rhetorical fire at the Trump.

“The US Constitution doesn’t begin with the words, ‘I, the president,’ ” said Attorney General Maura T. Healey. “It begins with the words, ‘we the people.’ And we’re the people, you’re the people. This is what democracy looks like.”

Walsh, former head of the Boston Building Trades Council, also knocked Trump, congressional Republicans, and what he framed as their anti-union policies. But the Dorchester Democrat also offered a hopeful note.

“They talk about Washington being broken,” he said. “There’s nothing that American workers can’t fix.”

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh during Monday’s breakfast.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh during Monday’s breakfast. (Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff)

Speaking to reporters, Warren, who is up for re-election in November, but doesn’t face a primary challenge on Tuesday, explained her promise about Democrats having the backs of union members.

She said Republicans have been changing Department of Labor rules on worker safety, pension protections, and other key areas.

“If we have a majority in the House and the Senate, we can stop the Department of Labor from doing that, and that means we will have the backs of all working people,” she said, “union and non-union.”


Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.