Trumka: Minimum Wage Will Pass — or Republicans Will `Pay a Price’

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO.

For all the resistance to raising the federal minimum wage in Washington, Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, predicts Congress will pass it.

If not, the labor leader said today, Republicans will “pay a price for it at the polls.”

A groundswell of support for higher wages nationally, fueled also by the comments of Pope Francis and the advocacy of President Barack Obama, point to wages rising in states and cities where it’s on the ballot — and should provide the political momentum for action by Congress —  Trumka said at  a breakfast sponsored by Bloomberg Government in the Washington Bureau.

“2014′s going to be a pretty good year for us,” Trumka said. “The drumbeat on the ground is really picking up.”

Productivity is up, he said, and there is “more and more talk about raising wages” nationally.

“If it gets on the floor of the House, it passes big,” he said, suggesting that many Republicans support it. “They’re being held down now.”

The fact that GAP is raising its minimum wage “puts to the lie” the argument that employers can’t afford an increase in the $7.25 an hour federal minimum wage, he said. The Retail Federation — including the nation’s largest employer, Wal-Mart, and small business groups — represent the real opposition, he said. The $10.10 per hour that Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa is promoting could pass the Senate if the House agrees, he said, declining to “negotiate with myself” about accepting any lower figure.

The Pope too has “helped changed the debate,” Trumka said, and “I think the president has helped change the debate.”

“People in D.C. haven’t come to grips with this,” Trumka said. “People out there are pissed off” about stagnant wages.

The protests by McDonald’s workers were genuine uprisings, he said — noting that people paid at that level taking time off to protest are making a powerful statement.

Trumka attempted to downplay the impact that the president’s health care law will have on the midterm elections, suggesting that Obama did the right thing in promoting the Affordable Care Act and its “unintended consequences” need to be worked out. Asked if the special election contest today in Florida’s 13th Congressional District, where Republican David Jolly has attacked Democrat Alex Sink over her support for Obamacare, will provide a message for other congressional elections this year, he said: “I don’t think you can take one race anywhere and say, `See, it was Obamacare.”’

Trumka voiced frustration over the failure to fix the nation’s immigration laws, arguing that thousands of people every day are facing deportation — “ripped” from their families — with minimal hearings of their cases. He acknowledged that this is happening under the administration of the president he supports and who has sought an immigration overhaul.

Asked about his overall disappointment about Obama’s presidency, Trumka said. “We agree with him more than we disagree.”

The longtime union and political activist also said this:

“I stopped hoping for politicians who would meet all my expectations when I was 24. After Bobby Kennedy, it’s all down hill.”

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