Sen. Harkin 'upset' Obama did not give nod to labor in SOTU

President Obama should have had more to say about labor unions in his first State of the Union speech of his second term, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said Wednesday, a day after the speech.

Harkin first said there was a lot in Obama's speech that he liked. The retiring senator from Iowa praised the president's comments on the middle class. During his speech, Obama repeatedly tied his administration's policies to the middle class, urging federal action to increase job training availability and allow citizens to refinance their homes.

ADVERTISEMENT
Harkin praised Obama for calling for more investment in early childhood education as well, saying the president "hit the ball out of the park on that one."

"Well, I tell you, a lot of it I really liked. The middle class — that is exactly what we should be doing," Harkin said Wednesday on the "Bill Press Show." "I might remind you, Bill, it was on your show about a year ago I introduced a bill called the Rebuild America Act, which had a lot of the stuff that he's talking about in that bill. So I think he's right on target. We've got to rebuild the middle class. But there are a couple of things that kind of upset me."

But the president should have mentioned labor unions in his speech, explained Harkin, who has made labor one of his signature topics as chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.

"And not one word in there about, if you want to rebuild the middle class, you've got to make it easier and better for people to organize and bargain collectively for their wages and for their conditions of their employment," Harkin continued. "Not one word about that. And to me, that is the crux of their problem — is that people don't have any power. They don't have any power when they're out there on the job. And you've got to have a balance. You've got to give workers more of a power to be able to bargain for things like their wages, for pensions, for family and medical leave, and paid sick leave and things like that.

"People just are powerless, and so I was just kind of upset and really saddened that he didn't even give a nod to labor unions."

"And you know what?" Harkin added. "He wouldn't be there without labor unions, and neither would half of our Democrats in the Senate, I'll tell you that."

Harkin, who will be stepping down from his seat at the end of this session of Congress, also specifically mentioned Obama's proposal in his speech on Tuesday to raise the minimum to $9 an hour, up from $7.25.

"I'm grateful that he mentioned about raising the minimum wage," Harkin said. "But last year we had a bill — last year, in the last Congress — to raise the minimum wage to $9.80 an hour — $9.80. And now, I've been working with Congressman [George] Miller [(D-Calif.)] on the House side to reintroduce it this year, to bump it up to $10.10 an hour by 2016."

Under Obama's plan, the minimum wage would reach $9 by 2016.

"I think it ought to be a lot higher. I think it ought to be at least $10.10 an hour by 2016," Harkin said.

While Harkin said Obama "way undershot the mark on raising the minimum wage," he added that Obama's idea of connecting the minimum wage to the cost of living was "excellent."

"But you got to have a good starting point. If you're gonna start really low at $9 an hour now, you're never ever going to get up in the minimum wage. You're always going to be lagging way behind," Harkin said.