U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez, speaking at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, promoted the role labor unions have in sustaining and growing the middle class and called for a raise in the minimum wage and a nationwide paid family leave law.
“There is an absolutely direct relationship between the health of the middle class and the health of the labor movement,” said Perez.
Perez praised the economic recovery under President Obama – September was the 55th straight month of private sector job growth – but also acknowledged that many have been left out, and that long-term unemployment remains a national problem.
“The principal unfinished business of this recovery is to ensure that prosperity is broadly shared, and that we build an economy that works for everyone,” said Perez.
Wages have grown stagnant in part because of shrinking union density, said Perez. He said the decrease in unionism has allowed the U.S. middle class to fall behind that of Canada and other countries. In 2013, just over 11 percent of U.S. workers were union members.
Recent attacks on unions, like taking away collective bargaining rights for most public-sector workers in Wisconsin or the right-to-work law passed in Michigan, were “not in the best interests of workers,” Perez said.
Raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour would stimulate economic growth, “and despite what you’ve heard on Capitol Hill, this isn’t a radical concept.”
Canadian law, Perez pointed out, allows mothers to take up to 12 months of paid maternity leave before they return to work. “Why are we making people choose between the job they need and the family they love?” Perez asked.