NEW YORK — Hillary Clinton linked herself to a successful effort to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour Monday, part of an effort to woo working class voters ahead of competitive Democratic primary contests in Wisconsin and New York.
The Democratic primary candidate joined New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a raucous midtown Manhattan rally celebrating the state’s newly-approved higher minimum wage.
“We need to build on what was done here in New York and go all the way to Washington and raise the minimum wage for everybody,” Clinton told several hundred union workers.
But Clinton hasn’t embraced that standard in her own campaign platform — a detail avoided mentioning to the boisterous crowd at the Jacob Javits Center. Instead, she backs Senate legislation that would enact a federal minimum wage of $12 an hour, with the ability of individual cities and states to set a higher threshold.
Clinton argues that a $15 threshold may be too high for some rural areas and smaller cities with lower costs of living.
That position puts her at odds with a vocal coalition of fast-food workers and union members who’ve made the “fight for $15” a rallying call in their push for higher wages and better benefits.
Democratic primary candidate Bernie Sanders has linked himself with that movement, turning the $15 wage into a central issue in his candidacy.
“Not too long ago, the establishment told us that a $15 minimum wage was unrealistic,” said Sanders, in a statement released before Clinton took the stage. “But a grassroots movement led by millions of working people refused to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
New York and California are the first states to approve a $15 an hour minimum wage, passing laws that will phase in the new standard over several years. Los Angeles, Seattle and other cities have recently approved $15 minimum wages, while Oregon officials plan to increase the minimum to $14.75 an hour in cities and $12.50 in rural areas by 2022.
“Everything seems impossible. Everything seems radical, until we make it happen. Then people say, what’s the big deal?” he told a crowd of auto workers gathered at a union hall in Janesville.
Clinton has poured time and resources into New York in recent days, eager to avoid the political blow that would result from losing the state she representing for eight years in the Senate.
While she never mentioned him by name, Clinton took a subtle swipe at Sanders on Monday, stressing the legislative maneuvering necessary to turn the push for a higher wage into actual law.
“This movement built a strong foundation but you and I know that a movement alone, just said talk alone, even marching alone, may not get it done,” she said.
In recent weeks, Clinton has cast Sanders’ call for a “political revolution” as naive and argued that his plans for free public college and universal health care are all-but-financially impossible.
The Democratic contest has taken a more contentious turn in recent weeks, as the candidates turn their focus to what’s expected to be a drag-out fight ahead of the New York primary later this month. Both are trying to increase their support among union and working-class voters, who will be a crucial swing vote in the contest.
Earl Phillips, secretary treasurer of Transit Workers’ Union Local 100, said that Clinton’s lack of support on the minimum wage issue gave him and his members pause.
“She needs to get behind this if she wants to show that she’s standing behind blue collar issues,” he said. “Don’t just give us political rhetoric.”
Maintenance worker Andre Kemper, who attended the rally and is deciding between the two Democrats, was also skeptical of Clinton’s commitment.
“I heard her say that she would bring it Washington,” he said. “I didn’t hear her say she believed in it too.”
Associated Press writer Todd Richmond contributed to this report from Janesville, Wisconsin.