- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 19, 2022

A group of House Democrats is seeking to make labor issues the vanguard of their party’s national conversation.

Members of the Labor Caucus, formed in 2020, want to ensure traditional Democratic issues related to workers’ rights, unions and the economy remain a focal point in the direction of the party.

Rep. Donald Norcross of New Jersey, who co-chairs the caucus, said he wanted to form the caucus because there wasn’t a dedicated policy focus on union issues, despite it being a key item in his party’s platform.

“The Labor Caucus [is meant to be] the strongest pro-union voice in Congress and connect union leaders with members,” Mr. Norcross told The Washington Times. “The labor unions in our country are as diverse as the people who live here. We have very progressive unions and more conservative unions and everything in between.”

The caucus also focuses on ensuring fair wages and working conditions and fostering policies that lift up blue-collar Americans.

The party’s efforts to spotlight workers’ issues come as Democrats face a dip in support among blue-collar voters.

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An NBC poll found that Republicans had a 12-percentage-point gain among blue-collar voters in the past decade, while support for Democrats decreased by 8 percentage points.

Rep. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, one of the few Democrats to carry a district won by former President Donald Trump in 2020, said it’s important to emphasize issues that hit people’s pocketbooks.

Mr. Cartwright said Democrats should step up to ensure they keep up with traditional economic messaging in the midterm elections, noting that many union members turned to Mr. Trump in the last election.

“When I first came to Congress in 2013, I felt the same way I do now, and that is that organized labor and public education are the two stoutest pillars supporting the American middle class,” Mr. Cartwright said. “I look for every opportunity I can to be a voice for organized labor.”

Along with Mr. Norcross, the Labor Caucus is co-chaired by Reps. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Linda Sanchez of California, Steven Horsford of Nevada, Debbie Dingell of Michigan and Tom Suozzi of New York.

Several of the members have union and blue-collar ties. Mr. Norcross is a former union electrician, and Mr. Pocan was a decadeslong member of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. Ms. Sanchez is a former labor lawyer.

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The Biden administration has made advancing the labor agenda a key priority in its agenda.

Earlier this month, President Biden sought to lessen the burden on federal employees to join unions and reduce barriers for union organizers to speak to workers while on federal property.

The administration also cracked down on employers who violate labor laws, including participating in wage theft or misclassifying employees as independent contractors to avoid paying taxes.

Mr. Biden also raised wages to $15 an hour for the country’s roughly 370,000 federal workers and contractors.

His choice of Marty Walsh, a former union official, to lead the Labor Department was also a win for organized labor.

Despite the Democrats’ push to champion blue-collar Americans, Republicans argue that the party is out-of-touch with everyday Americans and that the administration’s policies make working families financially worse off.

Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, chair of the Republican Study Committee, said Democrats’ policies hurt working families and Republicans are set to continue making gains among the blue-collar voting base.

Mr. Banks previously sent a memo to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy on how to rebrand their party as one for working-class Americans.

“Democrats are so disassociated with the views and feelings of working class voters, they have no idea how they feel,” Mr. Banks said. “Blue-collar voters are suffering from their immigration policies, their energy policies, and their spending policies that’s raised inflation so badly.”

Mr. Norcross acknowledged the economic challenges facing Americans, including inflation, that could be a problem for his party. But he said he believes Democrats have been and will continue to be the party for workers.

“Inflation and the cost of things that we’re seeing everyday are tough issues,” Mr. Norcross said. “But, when it comes to wages, working conditions, and benefits, the Democrats, without a doubt if you ask me, are far ahead of the Republicans.”

• Mica Soellner can be reached at msoellner@washingtontimes.com.

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