Presidential races

Trump’s courtship of union members complicated by Pence

Greg Nash

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump wants to reach out to blue-collar workers, but his running mate isn’t going to make that easy.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is a free-trade supporter who has opposed lifting the minimum wage. Neither of those positions is going to help the GOP ticket with labor unions; AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called Pence the “second worst” vice presidential pick in history

{mosads}Labor leaders like Trumka are backing presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but Trump believes he can win over rank-and-file union members who are turned off by the Democrat. 

But that outreach will be complicated by the selection of Pence, labor officials say.

“Shame on him,” said labor attorney Stuart Salles, who has represented hundreds of unions.

“Trump is trying to appeal to union workers, but how can he in good conscience try to help them with Pence on the ticket?” Salles asked. “Pence has opposed labor on every single issue that has come up, whether it’s helping unions organize, increasing the minimum wage, anything that has to do with unions, he’s been against.”

Trump has made no secret about his interest in courting the union vote. After the AFL-CIO last month endorsed Clinton, Trump promised to “fight harder for American workers than anyone ever has.”

“I believe their members will be voting for me in much larger numbers than for [Clinton],” Trump added.

The businessman ramped up his appeal to union members on the final night of the Republican convention, with his daughter, Ivanka Trump, talking about how the real estate mogul seeks out the opinions of the men and woman who work for him—  “the painter, the engineers, the electricians, he’ll ask them for their feedback,” she said.

But questions about Trump’s union support linger.

A recent poll from the Wall Street Journal and NBC News conducted before Pence was added to the Republican ticket found Trump’s union appeal was strongest among white, working-class voters, said Democratic strategist Brad Bannon.

Still, Trump and Clinton split the vote among white, union households, with each candidate taking 44 percent.

“Yeah, among white, working-class voters, Trump does have a following,” Bannon said. “But that ignores the fact that a lot of the union movement is becoming increasingly black and Latino.”

Labor officials have been pounding the drum against Pence all week.

The GOP tickets presents an “extreme threat to working families,” said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.

“Trump-Pence will be one of the most anti-worker tickets in American history,” Weingarten said.

The AFL-CIO’s Trumka called the Republican ticket “our enemy.”

“Mike Pence once again proves Donald Trump’s true priority of assaulting the rights of working people and helping corporate CEO’s line their pockets,” Trumka added.

One of labor’s biggest disagreements with Pence is his support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pact negotiated by the Obama administration that they fear will send American jobs overseas.

Trump has taken a different line than Pence on trade, opposing the TPP and lashing out against companies for sending jobs to Mexico. He also promised to renegotiate or withdraw from the the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was negotiated by President Clinton, and assailed China over currency manipulation.

Clinton initially backed work on the TPP as secretary of State, but came out against the final deal last year. Still, her past support for the agreement could make it difficult to raise the issue against Pence, said Michael Lotito, a labor and employment attorney who is co-chair of the conservative Workplace Policy Institute.

“The areas where Pence can be attacked on his trade positions, Clinton can be subjected to the same sort of arguments,” Lotito said. “So I think they cancel each other out.”

Labor officials are also attacking Pence’s over his longstanding opposition to raising the federal minimum wage, which currently sits at $7.25 an hour.

The GOP ticket would “hold wages down for hardworking Americans,” warned Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union.

“Working families should know that if it were up to Mike Pence, the minimum wage would still be $5.15 an hour,” Henry said. “He repeatedly opposed minimum wage increases when he was in Congress.”

Pence voted against raising the minimum wage above $5.15 an hour as a member of Congress in 2007.

At the time, Pence called it “irresponsible and unwise,” during a House floor speech, and suggested that such “an excessive increase in the minimum wage will hurt the working poor.”

Later, as governor, Pence blocked Indiana towns from raising the minimum wage in their own communities. He also struck down the prevailing wage for construction workers, which often led to higher pay than the federal minimum wage.

Trump’s position on the minimum wage is less clear. During a GOP presidential debate last November, he expressed reluctance to raising the wage, but then reversed course in May.

“I’m looking at that, I’m very different from most Republicans,” Trump told CNN at the time. “You have to have something you can live on. But what I’m really looking to do is get people great jobs so they make much more money than that.”

Pence also defended Indiana’s right-to-work law from union attacks. Adopted by his predecessor, former Gov. Mitch Daniels (R), the legislation allows workers to reject union membership.

Labor officials say these workers receive the benefits of the higher wages and better working conditions they negotiate without paying for them through union dues.

Erikka Knuti, spokesperson for the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, called Trump “hypocritical” for selecting Pence as his running mate.

“It’s a marriage we wouldn’t be too excited about,” Knuti said.

“When you pick a guy who supports TPP and is against raising the minimum wage, you’re standing with a guy that’s not standing with workers,” she added.

Tags Donald Trump Hillary Clinton Mike Pence
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