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We Need a New Brand of Courage

December 2, 2014
By UNITE HERE President D. Taylor

I am not going to add my voice to the post-election blame game. I’ve read all the excuses. Seen all the finger pointing. And heard all promises about how things will be different in 2016. Better Senatorial map. Presidential year turnout.

I will confine my criticism to a post-election analysis offered by the staff of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee: “The Democrats forgot their base.”

The result was Democratic voters staying home. They voted with their feet. Their tired feet. In my experience, people will give you what you give them. Democrats were afraid of losing their opportunity to stay in office—and ran scared. The results speak for themselves.

But last week’s action on immigration by the President signals a new brand of courage that could turn things around.

The 270,000 members of my union—the hospitality union—are mostly immigrants and people of color. In 2008, they took a chance on Obama, and UNITE HERE became the first union in the nation to endorse him. That endorsement paid off big time for him. In Nevada, UNITE HERE’s Culinary Union is the largest organization of immigrants in the state. In 2008, immigrant voters came to the polls in droves, turning a red state blue for Obama. They did it again in 2012.

The President’s decision to grant relief to millions of immigrants in this country, despite Republican threats, shows our members that their voices—their families—matter. Millions of lives will change from this one brave act, and it’s the kind of courage that will inspire our members to vote again. It’s what is needed if Democrats want to be the party for an entire generation of immigrants in America.

But this is just one act. If Democrats want to win back the base and impact national politics for years to come, it’s time to replace compromise with courage. It’s time for Democrats and their allies to stand up and fight for changes that really matter to people like my members.

The Republicans will propose to abolish the Affordable Care Act. They know that effort will fail. They are then preparing to offer proposals to “fix” it. Democrats should match each of the Republican proposals with principled stands of their own.

For example, if Republicans want to reduce taxes on medical devices, Democrats should demand elimination of the tax on non-profit union health plans. If Republicans want to delay the employer mandate, the Democrats should propose to delay the tax fine imposed on working people who can’t afford the insurance their employer offers and don’t qualify for the ObamaCare subsidy.

The Republicans will propose reducing corporate taxes. Democrats should counter by demanding that is only applicable for corporations that pay their employee $50,000 a year and provide decent benefits. Corporations that do so deserve better treatment under the tax code than corporations that do not.

Proposing minimal increases to the minimum wage polls well, but it doesn’t inspire. Wages are flat in this country. That needs to change. Instead of pushing for 50 cents an hour, Democrats should be pushing to increase income to at least $50,000 a year. No family can live and prosper in America on less—and shouldn’t have to.

Republicans are going to propose lessening regulation on business. Democrats should counter with an offer for lessening the regulation on employees trying to organize and bargain with their employer.

Republicans will propose more trade agreements. Democrats cooperated before with some weak labor improvements for workers in other countries but without winning any better working conditions for American workers of the corporations who benefit from such trade agreements. It is time for getting something real in return.

Let’s hope that President Obama’s actions last week won’t be the last brave act by Democratic leaders we see before the next election. The members of my union ask only for an opportunity to provide for their families. They have a long history of willingness to risk their livelihoods to win. To inspire them, we need political leaders who are willing to risk as much to improve our nation.

This piece was originally published on the Huffington Post on November 25, 2014

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