updated 5/10/2007 3:13:34 PM ET 2007-05-10T19:13:34

Presidential hopeful Bill Richardson asked members of the nation's largest firefighters' union Thursday to compare his labor record to his Democratic rivals' rhetoric.

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"I've done it. I don't just say I'm for it: I've done it," the New Mexico governor said at an International Association of Fire Fighters convention.

"There are a lot of candidates who will come up and take a picture with you and make you promises, but when it's time to deliver, maybe they'll be with you. ... I'll always be with you," he said.

In 2003, Richardson signed a law requiring the state, cities, counties and school boards to negotiate with unionized workers. The law replaced one that had lapsed several years earlier.

"Those were dark, dark ages for us," said Emily Kane, president of the New Mexico Firefighters Association. After Richardson signed the law, wages for firefighters increased "to the point people are fighting to get into the departments," she said.

"When he takes office in 2009, my loss is going to be your gain," she told her peers from around the country.

Richardson said he also supported unions during his 15 years in Congress and as Energy Secretary, when he proposed a health care compensation package for union workers who built nuclear weapons. He said that as president, he would help firefighters by ensuring they have the equipment, training and protected pensions they deserve, and he also would appoint someone with a labor background as labor secretary.

"I want you to look in my eye: I will fight for you," he said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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