updated 1/5/2004 6:42:43 PM ET 2004-01-05T23:42:43

Warning that union workers are losing faith in politics, Democratic presidential candidate Dick Gephardt on Monday urged their leaders to help elect someone “who will deliver on issues like trade.”

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The Missouri congressman told about 200 leaders of the Alliance for Economic Justice that union workers are told in election after election that trade must be fair, but that nothing ever happens.

“There’s a lot of rhetoric, but there’s never action,” he said.

Gephardt warned officials that “it’s in their own interest to elect a candidate who will deliver on issues like trade.”

The Alliance for Economic Justice is a coalition of 17 national labor unions that was formed to focus attention on jobs, health care and trade issues. The group has endorsed Gephardt, largely because of his opposition to trade deals. Gephardt opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement and is making trade an issue in the campaign.

The union leaders were brought to Iowa for the closing two weeks of the campaign and hope to organize workers for Iowa’s precinct caucuses, which open the nominating season on Jan. 19.

Polls show Gephardt locked in a tight race in the state with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean atop the Democratic field.

Union turnout is crucial
The turnout of union members is crucial for Gephardt’s campaign because he has more union endorsements than any of his rivals.

About 100,000 Democrats are expected to show up for caucuses and about a third will come from union households, Gephardt said. Unions represented by the coalition have 80,000 to 90,000 members in Iowa.

“If you can get even a third, or a fourth, or half of those members, we’re gonna win,” Gephardt said.

About 135,000 workers in the state are union members, said Mark Smith, president of the Iowa AFL-CIO. For every 100 members, about 40 are registered Democrats and 15 are Republicans. The rest are independent.

Gephardt said his stance on trade issues sets him apart from Dean and his rivals.

“I’m the only candidate in this race that has been there,” Gephardt said. “I’m from the show-me state. I don’t talk it. I do it.”

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