Photo illustration by MONEY; Getty Images (2)
By Alicia Adamczyk
September 2, 2016

Low wages and factory closings in the Rust Belt are campaign touchstones for Republican nominee Donald Trump. His promises to bring jobs back to the U.S. and criticisms of international trade agreements are appealing to American workers shut out of an increasingly globalized economy.

Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is advocating for paid parental and medical leave as well as pay equity, issues that matter tremendously to working women and their families (and the businesses who want to retain talent).

As Labor Day approaches, here’s where the candidates stand on three major labor issues:

Minimum Wage

The so-called “Fight for $15” has been picking up momentum across the country, and the lowest-wage workers have seen some of the biggest pay increases recently. Opponents of raising the federal minimum wage to $15 say it will hurt small businesses and cause layoffs as more jobs will be outsourced or automated.

Hillary Clinton: Clinton’s proposed policy is a bit complicated, and doesn’t make for a simple call-to-arms like the “Fight for $15.” She supports a raise in the minimum wage to $12, but will “support state and local efforts to go even higher,” per her campaign website.

This is one issue that former Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders seems to have pushed to the forefront. When Sanders was still in the race, Clinton was cautious about calling for a $15 minimum. But in July the Democrats added the $15 plan to their official party platform.

Clinton’s proposal is modeled after New York’s: While the five boroughs of New York City and their suburbs are guaranteed a $15 minimum to be phased in by the end of 2021, with an exception: “non-fast-food workers upstate” will cap out at $12.50 minimum wage by the end of 2020 (and the state will re-examine the situation after that), as Slate explains. In other words, Clinton will encourage regional labor markets that can handle a $15 minimum to adopt it, but she sets the federal level at $12.

Donald Trump: It’s hard to track Trump’s position on whether or not to raise the federal minimum wage (which is currently set at $7.25 per hour). As the Washington Post explains, “he has been on nearly every side of the issue.”

At least in the beginning of his campaign, Trump has said he did not support an increase in the minimum wage. In August 2015 he said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, “I think having a low minimum wage is not a bad thing for this country.”

“If we raise it we’re not going to be able to compete with the rest of the world,” he said during a debate in November 2015. A few months later, in May, he said in an interview with CNN he believes the minimum wage should be increased.

“I’m very different from most Republicans. You have to have something you can live on,” he told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. On Aug. 1, a campaign official told the Washington Post that Trump supports raising it to $10 per hour at the federal level.

Paid Leave

The U.S. is one of two countries in the world (the other being Papua New Guinea) that doesn’t offer paid leave. This hurts workers, especially women, and families. A poll from May shows 72% of Americans support paid family leave.

Hillary Clinton: She has made instituting paid leave policies an important part of her campaign. According to her website, Clinton’s proposal calls for up to 12 weeks of guaranteed paid family and medical leave, with workers making at least two-thirds of their current wages.

A spokesperson for the Clinton Foundation says it offers employees who are primary caregivers with a guaranteed paid leave benefit of 12 weeks following birth, adoption or foster care placement of a child, and secondary caregivers with six weeks of paid leave.

Donald Trump: Trump has no official plan to institute paid parental or medical leave. At the Republican National Convention last month, his daughter, Ivanka, claimed that it was a priority for him. Support for paid leave is not in the Republican Party’s official platform, and Trump has been pretty quiet on the issue. It’s also unclear what, if any, leave Trump allows employees at his various companies, as the Daily Beast detailed last month.

In an interview with Fox Business, Trump said of paid leave, “We have to keep our country very competitive, so you have to be careful of it.”


Labor Day celebrates the accomplishments of the labor movement in their fight for worker’s rights and pay. In 2015, 11.1% of workers in the U.S. belonged to a union, down from over 20% in the 1980s, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Still, union workers and the middle class more generally have been the focal point of both candidates this election.

Hillary Clinton: Clinton’s relationship to labor is complex and ever-changing. Her website says she will fight to “protect collective bargaining rights and strengthen America’s labor movement,” though it doesn’t go into any details.

Clinton initially supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact between the U.S. and 11 nations in the Americas and Asia. The TPP issue has been a sore point to many blue-collar workers, who believe it will accelerate the demise of numerous U.S. industries if ratified. She now claims she does not support the agreement.

Many of America’s big unions, including the largest, the AFL-CIO, have endorsed Clinton. But her support for the North American Free Trade Agreement and the TPP could hurt her with individual union members. Critics also point out her membership on the board of Walmart and slow acceptance of the $15 minimum wage as indicators that she is no champion of unions.

“Clinton’s record on labor issues, stretching back many years, is contradictory and difficult to decipher, and organized labor is very far from universally enthusiastic about her candidacy,” an article in the Atlantic says.

Donald Trump: Trump has been courting blue-collar workers and union members across the country, railing against trade with China and the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he claims has led to the decline of manufacturing jobs across the country, as well as the TPP.

His actual treatment of union workers at his companies, as with anything with Trump, is more of a mixed bag. In July, the National Labor Relations Board certified a union at the Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas, after Trump’s hotel filed a lawsuit claiming workers threatened others to vote to join the it. Also in July, the hotel agreed to settle with two workers for $11,200 in lost wages after the workers alleged that the hotel took retaliatory measures against them for supporting a union.

He has no stated policy on strengthening or weakening unions.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, his pick for vice president, dilutes Trump’s working class appeal. When Trump announced Pence would be his running mate, opposition from union organizations was strong and swift. The prospective veep is against raising the minimum wage. In fact, in July 2013, he signed a bill that prohibits local governments in Indiana from instituting a higher minimum wage or additional benefits if they are not mandated by state or federal law, according to the Times of Northwest Indiana.

While Indiana became a right-to-work state under his predecessor, Pence fought to keep that status against union lawsuits. As a member of the U.S. House, he also opposed a controversial bill, called the Employee Free Choice Act, aimed at making it easier for unions to organize workers. The legislation was squelched in Congress. Pence also supported the TPP, which Trump does not.

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