Labor chief to Dems: ‘Walk the walk’ on minimum wage

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on Thursday challenged Democrats to “walk the walk,” when it comes to pursuing populist legislation like an increase in the minimum wage.
 

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The head of the nation’s largest labor federation said populist issues have traction with voters, but Democrats need to force the debate on Capitol Hill.

“They have to bring the issues forward and actually fight for them,” Trumka said at a Politico event at the Newseum.

“Just don’t talk the talk. Walk the walk. Put forward the Harkin-Miller bill. Fight for it. Make them vote on it. Have a vote on it. Hold people accountable. Do the [unemployment] insurance extension.”

The AFL-CIO leader was referring to legislation sponsored by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) that would gradually raise the minimum wage to $10.10 and index it to inflation. Unions are pushing for the bill, and Trumka said he believes it could pass in 2014.

Questioned on how it would move in the Republican-controlled House, Trumka responded the GOP would run up against popular opinion, which is in favor of a wage increase.

“I think they won’t have a choice,” Trumka said. “Because the growing sentiment right now. They are going to take it on the chin.”

The labor chief said the same electorate that voted for New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) also voted for a minimum wage increase. Along with the election of Bill de Blasio as New York City Mayor and the prominence of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), politicians who campaign on populism are finding success at the polls, he said.

“There is a growing trend towards populism in this country. Now it’s not matched in the policies yet, but there is a growing trend towards it,” Trumka said.

The AFL-CIO president also pushed for expanding Social Security and extending unemployment insurance, which is set to expire on Dec. 28, leaving 1.3 million people without benefits. Trumka also took shots at trade deals, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that is still being negotiated between the United States and 11 other countries.

Trumka said the TPP is similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which unions argue has brought down U.S. wages and caused job losses. The AFL-CIO has been an ardent opponent of many of the trade deals completed under President Obama, and Trumka hinted that the labor federation will come out against TPP as well.

“If it’s modeled after NAFTA, it’s a failed model so yes, we will oppose it. And I hope it’s changed. I hope for the sake of the country that it’s changed and I hope for the sake of America’s workers that we actually get it right for a change,” Trumka said.

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