Bill Bradley
Service Employees International Union
1999 Conference on Legislative and Political Action
Washington, DC
May 24, 1999

Thank you very much Andy [Andrew L. Stern, International President, SEIU] for that very kind introduction. I thank those of you who stood and applauded, and for those Celtic fans I understand why you didn't stand. [laughter].

You know I want to, I think I should begin today by telling you a story because I did make my living running around in drafty arenas for about ten years of my life. I'll tell you one story from that time in my life.

I was a member of the Knicks and we played the Boston Celtics back to back Saturday night and Sunday afternoon and we lost both games. [applause, laughter]. You know I knew I was doing well in New Hampshire a couple of weeks ago when somebody gave me a bumper sticker that said "Celtic fans for Bradley." [laughter]. Anyway we were playing the Celtics; we lost back to back Saturday night and Sunday afternoon. And the following week I got a letter from a fan, and the letter said, "Bradley if you lose one more game to the Boston Celtics, I’m going to come to your house and kill your dog." [laughter]. And the guy signed his name. [laughter]. Joe Pell [?]. I don't know, maybe because he signed his name, I wrote back to him and I said, "Dear Joe Pell, look we don't like to lose any more than you do. And we're doing the best we can, and by the way, I don't own a dog." [laughter]. You can guess what happened. About three weeks later a UPS truck pulled up in front of our house. A guy got out of the UPS truck, he's carrying a big box, he puts it down out on the front steps. My wife runs outside and comes to me and says Bill there's a big box out there with a dog in it. [laughter]. And I look outside, there's the box, it has a dog on the inside, it's inside the box. On the outside of the box there's an envelope; on the outside of the envelope it says, "From Joe Pell." And I open the envelope there's a note inside and the note says, "Bradley don't get too attached to this dog." [laughter, applause]. I always thought that was good advice for a politician; don't get too attached to your job because you never know.

Well I want to just say it's great to be with Andy again; it's great to be with Vince... from Chicago… And I want to just tell you, last winter we were down in Florida at the AFL meetings and Vince was there and he had dinner with Phil Jackson and he invited me to come along. I went along, and figured I'd have a chance to meet him. I said at the AFL meeting Phil Jackson was my room mate for a number of years on the Knicks, I said if I succeed in obtaining the presidency when I make my first government appointment and that would be Phil Jackson secretary of de-fense. [laughter].

You know, I'll tell you just one more story from those years many years ago. I was with, I played for the Olympic team in 1964; we played in the Tokyo Olympics; that's where the games were held. And as soon as I was selected to the team, I thought we'd end up playing the Soviet Union in the final games of the Olympics, because I thought they had the second best basketball program in the world. And so I went to a Russian professor in college, and I said, "Can you give me a few words of Russian that I can use in case I get into trouble out there in a game against the Soviets." He said, "Well what do you want to know in Russian?" I said, "How about 'Hey big fella, watch out.'" So he gave me the words in Russian. We got to the finals of the Olympic games; we were playing the Soviet Union. My man was 6'7" and weighed about 240 pounds. I was… About eight minutes he cracks me with an elbow up along my upper chest and my lower neck. I fall back… [laughter]. So I gather myself up, I put on my meanest face possible, I look him in the eye and I say, "[Russian phrase] ." which literally translated means, "Hey big fella, watch out." Now what do you think happened? Up until that moment the Soviets had called all their plays verbally. [pause, laughter]. But after that moment, since they thought I understood Russian, they stopped talking to each other and we went on and won the gold medal. [applause].

But you know there's a moral to that story too. The moral is try to be ready for what's there on the horizon--you know, pick up a few words in Russian going into the game--and try to be ready for the future. And yet if you think about the changes that we're in the midst of in this country, it's very difficult ten years ago to even predict them and to be ready for the changes we've gone through and quite frankly I believe the changes that we can't even imagine in the next decade. I think that it's terribly important that we find new ways to accomplish important goals.

I've been running for president now about six months, and I've traveled over the country for a long time, and what I find is great about these travels as a candidate for president is the chance to meet thousands of new people and share some extraordinary moments with them out on the campaign trail. And of course one of those moments I most treasure at this stage of the campaign was…and 434B in L.A. [applause]

I happened to be out there…on the day that the SEIU was announcing the organization of 80,000 new members of home health care workers in Los Angeles. [applause]. It was a tremendous moment for me to see all those years of effort, all those years of sacrifice, all those years of wondering are we ever going to do it, culminate in that terrific moment when 80,000 people took up the cry and said we're now members of a labor union and we have some leverage to improve the quality of our lives.

It was a wonderful moment. And I want to tell you I know that there's going to be organizing in California--the SEIU in Sacramento, elsewhere--I'm going to be out there for a long time in June and I hope to be able to help the SEIU in any way I can, for example in Sacramento. [applause]. ...efforts in New York and….

Because quite frankly when I think the history of the labor movement is written in this country over a long time, I think the success of organizing home health care workers in California and across this country is going to rate with the accomplishments of the minimum wage, collective bargaining, the right to strike and workers compensation. That's how important I think this is. [applause].

And that means we've got to find new ways to do it; new ways to do it. You know maybe the reason I believe so strongly in unions is that, and I think I'm right here, I am the only presidential candidate who has a union pension. [applause].

Yeah it's basketball. For nine years I was a shop steward. [cheers]…I faced all those skeptical eyes… "We gonna have health?" Yeah… And I think it's important to note where basketball was at that time, as opposed to where it is now. At that time when the union was born in 1965, the way it was born was at the All Star game. And the players who were best in the league would not go out and play the game until the owners recognized their union. [applause]. When I was there, the first year the average salary, get this, was $9,500 a year. And what we fought for in the union was the pension, that I now benefit from, was health care, was the possibility we could sleep in hotels that weren't fleabags that had beds long enough so the 7-footers could fit on the beds [laughter], and that we flew in airplanes so we didn't have three 7-footers stuck in three seats across in coach, but we had a chance to spread out the legs. Mundane things. But everyday things. Everyday things that unions fight for and give to their members because they're living with their members and they are living their lives and they know that the union can make a difference.

Five Priorities

My belief in what we can achieve together is really why I'm running for president of the United States. And during the campaign so far, I've talked about five priorities that I want to accomplish. Five priorities. I want to share them with you.

The first is health insurance for everyone in the United States of America. [applause] Every child, every worker, as close to a hundred percent as you can get, go for it and achieve it. I mean we're a country, we're having a tremendous economic boom going on and it seems to me that …we still have…million people without health insurance in this country, over 24 to 25 million of them being working parents and families that need this coverage. And I can tell you if I am president this will get done. [applause]

The second thing is the importance that all of us realize what racial unity means to the future of this country. I mean one of the main reasons I even ran for the United States Senate--the first time it ever occurred to me to run for United States Senate was back in 1964. I was a student intern in Washington, training for the Olympics. And I happened to be in the Senate chamber the night the 1964 Civil Rights Act passed, the one that desegregated public accommodations in America. And the night that happened I thought to myself, "You know, something occurred in this chamber that made America a better place, not just for African-Americans or Latino-Americans or Asian-Americans, but for all Americans." I thought, "Maybe someday I can be in the United States Senate and help make America a better place." So when I got there I tried to fight for those things. I tried to be very direct; I tried to show you could be a white face, talk about race, and you wouldn't vaporize in America [laughter, applause].

…You know when Ronald Reagan was president of the United States and you wanted to please the boss, what you talked about was lower taxes, increasing defense spending and fighting communism. I can tell you if I'm the president and you want to please the boss, you're going to have to demonstrate how in your life, in your department, in your agency, you promoted racial understanding, and I mean it for keeps. [applause]

The third is defining our role in the world today. A complicated and increasingly difficult global economy, technological change--it's important to be clear about where we're headed.

Fourth is campaign finance reform. Now I think money [delayed applause] fundamentally distorts the democratic process today, fundamentally distorts it. And we are not going to achieve a system free of the clutches of money until we enact fundamental campaign finance reform. And that's not going to happen until three things occur: until there's a grassroots movement out there; until people in business, finance, labor, religion and university life step forward and we make this happen, and finally until there's a president of the United States who puts this right at the top of the agenda because he realizes how important it is to accomplish everything else that he wants to achieve. So campaign finance reform.

And last, children and families. You know, we're doing pretty well. Highest economic growth in, I don't know, 27, 30 years, unemployment low, stock market soaring, all those things, and yet we still have 15 million children in America who live in poverty. Fifteen million. And that means if you got a good economy and you want to be a good steward in the good economy and you're thinking of the long term future of America, that means you have to manage this economy so that we're able to lift up those children in America who are poor, give them and their parents a chance for a better living in this country. [applause].

The Labor Movement

I mentioned to you a few minutes ago that I was in Los Angeles and shared that great moment, ever so small my part… how much that meant to me. And all of you know this, but most of those members, those new members, were making minimum wage, they had no benefits, they had no ability to negotiate. And when I see a situation like that, I know one thing. That the labor movement is the answer to the problems and predicaments of those low income Americans. I mean if you think about it, who are the lowest paid workers in America? The lowest paid workers in America are those who care for our children and those who care for our elderly parents and grandparents when they are dying. [applause]. If we can't do better by those workers in this country, then we can't say that our booming economy is making a vital difference in the lives of Americans. I mean I want to see an America where a booming economy doesn't take 50 percent of the population up, and makes 30 percent of the population stagnant, and 15-20 percent of the population worse off; I want to see a booming economy that takes everybody to higher economic ground in this country. And that means more economic growth, more broadly shared. And I believe that it is the labor movement that is the instrument of that achievement.

But for the labor movement to be the instrument of that achievement we have to make it easier to organize. For example [applause] for example, it's now illegal to fire somebody for organizing supposedly, but we all know what happens. It's illegal, it says that, but if you're fired what is your recourse? You go to the NLRB, you go into a long protracted process; at the of which, what do you get? If you're successful you get back pay. The minimum we should do, is if that action is taken to fire that person because you're organizing and the facts are there and it's clear, that at the end of that process that individual ought to get three times back pay and punitive damages. [applause].

And the other thing we should do, finally, we should quit talking and act and make it ineligible--companies with government contracts that violate federal labor laws. [big applause].

And finally a president who believes that labor law reform is the right thing to do. It's been 21 years since it was ever attempted. It's time to climb that mountain again. It's time to make it happen again. It's time to make organizing in America a better reality for more Americans…[applause].


Ultimately, let me share it with you, I think running for president boils down to a decision about who you trust. Who do you trust with you life, who do you trust with your job, who do you trust with a view of life that's remotely similar to your own, remotely similar to your own. And I think there are three kinds of trust. There's trust in the president as an individual. Whether rightly or wrongly, justly or unjustly, we have to reserve that trust. Then there's trust in political institutions--Congress, the president--to be elected in an honorable way, not …, and to serve with the interests of the people at heart. And then there's the trust the president gives to the people to accept uncertainty, allow for human frailty and understand the principles that the government's operating under. So that is the triangle of trust. Trust in the president as an individual, trust in the political institutions, and the president giving the trust to the people to be able to understand the world they're living in and to understand what must be done.

Now I think part of that trust is leveling with people. I haven't always agreed with the labor movement on trade--I've said that forthrightly--it's because I trust you to be able to accept that and then move on to the things that are important for all of us. Trust is important in this room, if you think about it, if you think about, if you think about what you do. Every day workers across the country put their trust in you as leaders to be straight with them and protect their interests. Every day people across the country put trust in your members because of the role you play in their lives, in home health care and patient care and hospitals you're making a difference in the quality of our lives. The disabled trust you to help them lead their lives. The elderly trust you to make it possible for them to live in a somewhat independent fashion. And hospitalized patients trust you to care for them and make them comfortable.

When I think of this union I think of the one person's story out in Los Angeles on that day in February… The woman came into the room, and I like to ask people their stories. I mean you know I've been on the road in America for thirty years as a basketball player, as a politician, as a private speaker and a business person. And the one thing that's been a continuum in those thirty years is me asking people to tell me their story, and they tell me their story. And it's the accumulation of all those stories I think has given me a sense of who the American people really are. And basically I've concluded that there's goodness in most of us, and once we see the goodness in our neighbors, a form of connection and that connection makes us less lonely, less isolated, less fearful. And all of those connections give us a picture of…and I think our untapped potential.

Any time I see somebody who can see beneath skin color or eye shape to the individual, I think all of us could be that good. Anytime I see a company innovate and change the future, I say most of our companies could be that good. Anytime I see a person, a neighbor give something to their neighbor with no expectation of return, I think more of us more often could be that good.

And that goodness came through very clear in the life of that health care worker, home health care worker in that hotel room in Los Angeles. I asked her what she did. She said, "Well I have a calling." She said, "I sit with people as they're dying, and they're afraid. And I try to make them feel less afraid. So what I've taken to doing is I take out the Scriptures and read the Scriptures to them as they pass, as they're afraid. She said, "One night I was with a man who was very sick and I'd been with him for a number of months and…I read the Scriptures. And then I left the room and I came back; he had passed and he had a smile on his face." That's what SEIU members do. That's how much into the lives of the American people your members are. That's how much you mean to this country.

You know 75,000 home health workers join together in solidarity to form a union… Now they're more than 75,000 independent individuals; they are a group of people sharing a common goal with the leverage to achieve it. And I look at this and I say you know we could exist in this country as 265 million individuals, but if we did, well we'd survive, but we couldn't prosper as a nation or flourish as a country. And when we are one nation we've got to think of each other; we've got to reach out to each other with a belief in a belief in our collective potential, in our collective power and our collective wisdom. And I quite frankly think the SEIU does that every day and ennobles millions of lives in this country because of your commitment and your service, and that's why it's honor for me to speak to you today. Thank you very much. [applause].


Jack (Local 205 in Tennessee):…The next president will be in office from the year 2000 to 2004. As president would you promise to get health insurance for every American by the year 2004?

Bradley: Yes. [applause].

I could give you a much longer answer…The answer is I'm going to do my damnedest to… get it done, yeah.

John (Local 790 in San Francisco):…My question is workers who are organize, who want a voice of their own on the job, but bosses use intimidation and harassment to stop them. Bosses shouldn't be telling us whether or not to join the union. If you become president will you speak up and tell employers that they should not interfere or reject or oppose any worker's right to join the union?

Bradley: The answer to that is the key here is time when the cards are collected and the election is held. That's when the intimidation takes place. I think the way to do this is you shorten the amount of time between the election, and the time the cards are collected and the election. That will have the effect of doing that and I will certainly weigh in on the side of workers without any question. [applause].

Evelyn (Local 1227 in Florida): Senator Bradley, we've heard a lot about Social Security and how there's a crisis, about how it won't be there for us. Do you have a plan for making Social Security stronger without handing over my paycheck package to Wall Street? [applause]

Bradley: The first thing I think we have to do is we have to have an honest accounting. You read about a budget surplus in Washington. There is no budget surplus. The budget surplus is all of our Social Security taxes that have been paid in since 1983 and they're now sitting in the budget, thereby giving the implication there's a surplus. The first thing I'd do is take that Social Security Trust Fund out of the budget and put it over here [applause] where it was before 1967 when Lyndon Johnson, because it was in surplus, put it in the budget so he could finance the Vietnam War without being in deficit. So take it out and put it over here.

And then we say, well how are we going to protect Social Security? We see what we have in reserves here; how are we going to protect it? And there are about three or four answers. One is you cut benefits, the other answer is you raise taxes, the other answer is you invest to get a higher return on your existing savings.

Now I'll tell you on this last point, I'm skeptical about putting money…from Social Security into the stock market and I'll tell you why. [applause]. I'll tell you why, because in…the stock market dropped dramatically, remember that? I got a letter from a constituent, and sometimes constituents have wisdom. [laughter]. And the constituent said, "Dear Senator Bradley, I have the answer for lower unemployment, lower inflation, higher economic growth… " Well that got my attention. I read the second paragraph… "Senator Bradley, encourage people to invest in the stock market, and then if the stock market goes down have the government bail them out." [laughter]. So the stock market goes up more than bonds go up, return on equities more than bonds, unless you happen to retire in 1929. And if you retire in 1929 suddenly all this money that was there when the stock market was up is much lower, and there's only one place you'll turn, and that's the federal government, and we're not going to say no to you on Social Security. .. Only way to get the money is by raising taxes, and you raise taxes at precisely the wrong time. So, the stock market needs a long hard look and I'm very skeptical about that.

None of the three things that I said: taxes increase, benefits cut or higher returns on existing savings is as important as the fourth, and that is having more economic growth in America. Because what happens if you have more economic growth? You got SEIU organizing the country, you got new labor laws and people have some leverage, you got people now making 30,000 as opposed to 20,000, and they're paying Social Security…on that additional $10,000. If we have a long enough period of economic growth, high enough, with enough people earning more money, that is more important than any of the other three answers on Social Security. Thank you. [applause]


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