Six Dem Hopefuls Push Workers' Rights at Las Vegas Forum

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Six Democratic presidential hopefuls, vying for workers’ support in the 2020 primaries, pushed hard for workers’ rights at an all-day forum in Las Vegas April 27.

For five of them – Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Kamala Harris (Calif.), former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (Texas) and former Gov. John Hickenlooper (Colo.) – workers’ issues such as raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour and strengthening the right to organize were front and center.

The sixth, former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, who was U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary under Democratic President Barack Obama, endorsed workers’ rights, too. But he made “right to housing” his top issue, having toured Las Vegas’ underground viaducts where homeless people sleep.

The six are among 21 Democrats, so far, vying for the nomination to take on anti-labor GOP incumbent Donald Trump next year. Support from organized labor is a key to their bids.

But there is a contrast between groups of unionized workers. One wing, predominantly minority, female, or both, has been organized by the Service Employees – co-sponsors of the Las Vegas event – and unions such as the Teachers, AFSCME and National Nurses United.

The other wing is still predominantly white male. Other candidates, such as former Vice President Joe Biden, are appealing to them. One influential union representing that group, the Fire Fighters, endorsed Biden on April 29, while warning against the Democrats’ moving too far to the left.

And Biden picked up that endorsement while speaking at a Teamsters union hall in the key swing state of Pennsylvania.

But both wings agree on some key issues, especially labor law reform.

“Economic and political power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of corporations and billionaires, leaving most Americans — of all races —  overworked, underpaid, and struggling to provide for their families,” SEIU President Mary Kay Henry said in the run-up to the Las Vegas session, entitled the “National Forum on Wages and Working People.”

“No one should have to work multiple jobs just to get by. No one should have to live paycheck to paycheck. And everyone should have the opportunity to join a union, no matter where they work. All discussions about the future direction of our country must boil down to what economic policies can do to shift power to working people,” Henry added.

The hopefuls stuck to that script, too, but added some other issues:

  • Warren called for writing so-called card check recognition of unions into federal labor law and declared there should be more union voices on both the National Labor Relations Board       and in the Labor Department “to ensure businesses treat unions fairly.” She also outlined her tax-the-rich plan – to fund universal child care and student debt forgiveness – and her legislation to mandate 40% of corporate board members represent workers.
  • Harris said the $15 minimum wage is “only a start” towards fairness. Companies must be forced to pay into workers’ retirement accounts, among other moves, she said. She also pledged to seek repeal of the federal law section that lets states enact so-called “right to work” laws.

Hickenlooper pledged to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision last year, but didn’t say how. Janus makes every one of the nation’s 6.2 million state and local government workers – including Fire Fighters, teachers and many of the nurses and janitors SEIU represents – a potential “free rider,” able to use union contracts and services without paying anything for them. The right wing won that partisan 5-4 ruling in hopes it would cripple union finances and ability to fight the corporate agenda.

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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