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By Chris Opfer
Democrats plan to attack the Trump administration’s labor policy agenda on the campaign trail, especially in red states, DNC Chairman Tom Perez told Bloomberg Law Jan. 10.
“For workers who are concerned with good wages, affordable health care, and the right to organize, this president has been an unmitigated disaster,” Perez, who was labor secretary in the Obama administration, said. “When you refuse to even discuss the minimum wage, as Republicans have done, people see them for what they are.”
Democrats are going to put new tax cuts for corporations and GOP efforts to gut Obamacare front and center in the upcoming midterm elections. The labor policy message complements plans to paint a portrait of Republicans as being in the pockets of the business community.
Every seat in the House—where Republicans have a 44-member edge—is up for re-election this year. Democrats hold 26 of the 34 seats in play in the Senate, which Republicans currently control by a two-member margin.
Democratic stump speeches across the country will be littered with talk of raising the minimum wage, expanding overtime pay, and protecting labor unions, the Democratic National Committee chairman said. Those issues are particularly important for Democrats running for seats in GOP-controlled statehouses where right-to-work laws making it harder for unions to organize have become increasingly common.
“The more states flip red, the more you see the attacks on collective bargaining at a state level,” Perez said.
Democrats have long focused on liberal workforce policies in their pitch to voters, with mixed results. Trump-style populism resonated with many working class voters in 2016, but this time around Perez said the president has an actual policy record. That includes the corporate tax cuts, as well as moves to hit public sector union coffers and stop an Obama overtime rule that would have made some 4 million workers newly eligible for extra pay.
“The Republican party is now the party of Trump,” Perez said. “The party of Lincoln is officially dead.”
Republicans running for office in Florida may find themselves to be on the defensive about recent Trump moves on immigration and Puerto Rico. Democrats plan to hammer their opponents in the Sunshine State on Trump’s insistence on a Mexican border wall and inability—so far—to protect dreamers, young undocumented immigrants brought to the country at an early age.
“In South Florida we’re going to talk about immigration and the assault on Latinos and the second class citizenship of Puerto Ricans,” Perez said.
Trump indicated that he may be willing to soften his stance on dreamers in exchange for more border security funding. Without a deal in place, both sides have said the debate threatens to force a government shutdown.
Meanwhile, Trump took some heat late last year for publicly squabbling with officials in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria blasted the island. Critics also say that a new levy in the GOP tax law will hurt Puerto Rican businesses already reeling from the storm. The law penalizes drug makers and intellectual property holders in the U.S. territory in the same way as those operating in foreign countries.
Florida is home to the second-largest Puerto Rican population in the continental U.S.
The contrast between the two political parties on labor policy issues is well-settled.
Democrats generally support mandates on businesses that require employers to raise minimum wages, offer paid leave and other benefits, and make it easier to sue over pay discrimination and other workplace violations. Republicans say cutting regulatory red tape, trimming taxes, and dangling incentives for businesses that go the extra mile for workers is a better way to spur good-paying job growth.
Trump has largely stuck with the GOP playbook on labor issues on the campaign trail and in the White House. But he’s also pushed a populist message on international trade, threatening to tear up deals blamed for shipping jobs oversees and touting efforts to coax manufacturers to keep their operations stateside.
The minimum wage and overtime debates offer Democrats an opportunity to make their cases to voters.
Trump and other Republicans have largely shrugged off calls to raise the federal minimum wage, which hasn’t been increased since it was set at $7.25 in 2009. They also opposed the Obama overtime rule, which was set to double the salary threshold under which workers are automatically eligible for time-and-a-half pay before being blocked by a judge in 2016.
“The issue of stagnant wages and income inequality is the defining issue of our time,” Perez said. “It’s a really simple issue to understand: seven and a quarter can’t feed a family.”
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