CONCORD — Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg said his plan to empower workers would raise wages, guarantee paid leave, boost union membership and close the income gap for women in New Hampshire.
The South Bend, Ind., mayor unveiled his plan Friday ahead of the second round of televised debates in Detroit next week.
“Too many Americans are struggling to keep up with expenses. They are rightfully asking why they’re working so hard but barely getting by,” Buttigieg said.
“Economic progress has to mean that people are actually earning enough to live on — whether they can afford to pay for things like college tuition or health care premiums.”
Buttigieg called his plan “A New Rising Tide: Empowering Workers in a Changing Economy.”
According to the Economic Policy Institute, a non-profit think tank, the top 1 percent of wealthiest residents in New Hampshire captured 6 percent of income growth from 1945-73.
But since that point, the wealthiest here have gotten nearly a third of income growth.
About a quarter of workers in New Hampshire earn less than $13 an hour while the top 1 percent make 18 times more than the other 99 percent here, the EPI reported.
“New Hampshire’s economy is rapidly changing and too many young workers are being left behind with stagnant wages and nonexistent benefits,” said State Rep. Willis Griffith, D-Manchester, the chairman of New Hampshire Young Democrats.
“With the rise of the gig economy, companies have come to rely on the work of temporary employees and independent contractors to get out of paying their workers the benefits and pay they deserve. Pete’s labor plan puts an end to this insidious practice by finally giving gig economy workers the right to unionize and earn a fair wage.”
Buttigieg wants to change the process of awarding government contracts and grant preference to firms that are unionized and offer good pay and benefits to their employees.
Unions make up only 10 percent of the New Hampshire work force and Griffith said bidding laws that put the most emphasis on the lowest price encourages companies to classify workers as contractors and forgo benefits for them.
Buttigieg advocates a $15 minimum wage by 2025; New Hampshire has no minimum wage of its own and defaults to the federal minimum, which is $7.25 an hour.
Opponents such as Gov. Chris Sununu said few workers here make only the minimum and mandating higher wages will lead to less and not more job growth.
The fiscally-conservative Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy issued a white paper Friday warning a $15 minimum wage would reduce job prospects, pressure local governments to raise local property taxes, discourage entrepreneurship, make U.S. business and New Hampshire specifically less competitive.
Buttigieg’s plan would also guarantee worker access to sick leave and paid family leave.
Employers in New Hampshire aren’t required to provide that here.
The Democratically-led Legislature passed a paid family and medical leave mandate that Sununu vetoed, calling it an “income tax” on employees.
The governor had proposed a voluntary leave program for state workers in New Hampshire and Vermont that private companies could join. The idea hasn’t taken among lawmakers in either state.
Buttigieg joined other candidates by endorsing legislation that would require the public disclosure of the total pay gap at ever large company.
He said this would help close the gap women face in New Hampshire earning on average about $12,000 a year less than men for similar jobs.