The White House honored several union front groups on Tuesday for their work supporting President Barack Obama’s agenda.
Obama said "ordinary Americans" such as Restaurant Opportunities Center founder Saru Jayaraman and other big labor proponents were "taking action to raise wages for working women and men around the country."
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Labor watchdogs say that the president’s selections for the "Champions of Change" honors are labor agitators, rather than people working to create jobs. Michael Saltsman, research director for the Employment Policies Institute, said that the president’s selection focuses more on union front groups than "ordinary Americans."
"The White House isn’t championing ‘ordinary Americans’—it’s championing the agenda of the country’s major labor unions and the groups they fund," he said.
Obama’s selections are almost entirely involved in unionization campaigns, according to Saltsman. ROC is a driving force behind the SEIU’s push to organize restaurant workers into unions. Jayaraman has supplied academic and political clout for the movement through a restaurant workers coalition and ROC’s efforts.
"This award is about amplifying the voices of restaurant workers across the country," Jayaraman said in a statement.
Saltsman said that the White House’s focus on amplifying voices comes at the expense of basic economics. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the 40 percent minimum wage increase proposed by Obama could eliminate as many as 1 million jobs.
The president also selected OUR Walmart representative Bene’t Holmes as a "Champion of Change." OUR Walmart, a subsidiary of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, has been sanctioned for violating labor law and harassing employees at Walmart locations across the country.
"It’s particularly embarrassing to see members of Fast Food Forward and OUR Walmart honored. These barely concealed fronts for the SEIU and UFCW, best known for outrageous tactics designed to demonize employers and disrupt businesses operations, are deserving of scorn rather than a White House ceremony," Saltsman said.
The "Champions of Change" seem to have been chosen due to their support for Obama’s push for minimum wage hikes. However, the White House has discounted the self-interest involved in those efforts, according to Saltsman.
Many unions have entered into contracts that mandate automatic wage increases for members based upon the minimum wage level, meaning the UFCW and SEIU stand to benefit immensely from such changes. Saltsman faulted the White House for confusing union goals with an agenda that will spur economic growth.
"These aren’t champions—they’re union representatives with fancier titles, and they don’t deserve a White House platform to make their case," he said.