Labor Day with Robert Reich and Pramila Jayapal

Transcribed by Alisha Nieh.


(opening music)

Jini Palmer: (00:15)

Welcome to Town Hall Seattle: Civics Series. On this episode, economist, professor, author and political commentator, Robert Reich, came to Town Hall to talk with Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal about what steps we can take to protect our workers and better our country. Reich presented his book The Common Good and his argument that the common good constitutes the very essence of a society and that America has been an occurrence of a vicious cycle that can and must be reversed. Together, Pramila and Robert explored the moral obligations of citizenship and considered how we relate to labor, patriotism and leadership.



Pramila Jayapal: (01:05)

Hello, Seattle. We are just so thrilled to be here and I’m going to let our incredibly honored guest start us off for the evening. And then I have a few words to say about Town Hall before we dive into our conversation.

Robert Reich: (01:23)

Well, first of all, let me just say happy Labor Day.


RR: (01:32)

And a big congratulations and salute to those of you who are union members here in the Hall right now.


RR: (01:44)

And I also want to say happy Town Hall coming out and being this extraordinary space. This is really a privilege to participate in this opening. And finally, I just want to say some words about your member of Congress who is just about the most fabulous, dedicated, committed, progressive, dynamic, fabulous member of Congress.

RR: (02:17)

Every time I get a little bit worried about the country, it is people like your member of Congress, this Congresswoman, who cheer me up and I think about where we’re going. So thank you for everything you’re doing.

Thank you.


PJ: (02:38)

Well, I want to just return the praise because we recently got to work together. I called up the Secretary and said, “Will you do a video for us on Medicare for All?” Because if you’ve followed his incredible work, he is a remarkable explainer—of course, a brilliant mind—but a remarkable explainer. And he has these great videos on just about every topic you can imagine. And he did a fantastic video. So I hope you go search for it because it’s really, really excellent. And I just finished reading his latest book, which I thought I had brought out here with me, but please get it. It is wonderful and I think it brings us back to the values that we, in Seattle, and that all of you in this room and that all of us in the country are really fighting for. So thank you, Secretary Reich for all of your work over the years and for being here with us in Seattle.


RR: (03:35)

Thank you. Now what we thought we would do tonight is have a—

PJ: (03:37)

Can I just say one thing about Town Hall really quickly?

RR: Oh yes, oh yes.

PJ:I just wanted to say that when I was an activist just starting out after 9/11, some of you might remember in 2002, we did our first major event and it was called “Justice For All”. And we did it right here in Town Hall and we had over a thousand people here and it was folks that you would never probably seen before. It was an incredibly diverse audience and we did this hearing with our then member of Congress, Jim McDermott, and a number of others. Then Congressman Inslee actually was here as a Congress member before he went to be Governor. And it was a really remarkable hearing about all the civil liberties abuses that were happening. And so I just want to say Town Hall is such a special institution for all of us because it allows for the kinds of conversation that we are going to have tonight. I want to call out the Executive Director, Wier Harmon, for his tremendous work and the whole board and community that has supported Town Hall and how great that it is open again.


RR: (04:53)

Well, there are a lot of things to talk about and the question that I keep coming back to is: how do we keep our wits and our sanity and our optimism and our goodwill intact? When day after day things happen in this country and we hear our president or we read his tweets and we think, “How in the world are we going to make it at least to January or February or March or whenever it is, January 2021?” So my question for you to begin with: is if you look at this big system we’re in, and you look at it as a system—a political, economic, sociological system—what would you say are the biggest underlying structural issues that both explain the mess we’re in but also really do need to be tackled? Is that a fair question? It’s a big question.

PJ: (06:15)

Yes. Yes.


RR: (06:17)

We only have 40 minutes.

PJ: (06:21)

It is a big question and I think about it. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I just came back from India for three weeks visiting my parents who live there. And so I spent a lot of time just thinking about—I did a speech there about how America can regain Her heart again. And actually we have a phrase in Malayalam that when you’re really frustrated with somebody you love, you say, “I yo Pramila. I yo Robert.” And so I wanted to title my talk “I yo America” because I do think that we have, you know, we have some deep structural problems and I would say that there are three things that constitute the totality of it. The first is, and they’re all supremacies, the first is corporate supremacy. And I think about that as corporate greed, corporate power. What are corporations designed for? And what kinds of powers do they then take? And how did they structurally play into the consolidation of wealth? The second is white supremacy. And I think that is—yes, you can clap for that.


I mean, I don’t know. I don’t know if you should clap for that, but you’re clapping for the awareness of it. Right. That’s, that’s what we’re clapping for.

PJ: (07:46)

And white supremacy, I think, is we have to understand that didn’t start with Donald Trump. And in fact, none of these things started with Donald Trump. Donald Trump is a symptom, but he is also now a cause. He is both. And with white supremacy, not only do we have the institutionalized barriers that have been there for so long, but we also have now the rolling back of things that we thought we had made progress on. So discrimination in housing, for example, rolling back the fair housing rules, rolling back the ability for federal contractors to not discriminate against LGBTQ folks. And then, of course, the broader institutionalized racism and everything that we saw in Charlottesville, everything we continue to see in El Paso. And then the third supremacy is, I think of it as individual supremacy. And by the way, the Secretary talks about all of these in slightly different way in your book. But this idea, if you look at it at the national level, you would think about it as the America First policy.

At the individual level, it’s this idea that the individual takes precedence over the collective. But if you’re like us in this room, and I think many people before have said this, Paul Wellstone, I remember saying, “you’re all better off when you’re all better off. You all do better when you all do better.” That idea that we, as individuals, have our rights and our liberties, but we also have, as part of that, this interconnectedness and this duty to others and to a greater society. And that without that—which in your book you call “the common good”— has been known as the common good for so long, that without that a society fails. And so to me it’s those three things. They’re very intersectional. They’re very interdependent. They don’t always stop and start separately. They’re like interlocking Venn diagrams. And if you think about the individual supremacy in many ways fuels a lot of the corporate greed and the corporate supremacy.

But remember when corporations, in order to be chartered, we used to have the power. The citizens had the power to charter corporations, but they were limited in their capitalization. They were limited in their land. There were a lot of things that we put into place to limit the power of corporations, but today it’s corporate power over the environment, corporate power over people’s power, corporate power over our democracy and combine that then with white supremacy and I think you have these structural pieces. Last thing for Labor Day that I wanted to say is we are proud in Washington state to have the third highest union density in the country and—


PJ: (10:42)

And I think the labor movement and my husband who was the head of the King County Labor Council is here somewhere. But the labor movement has been really good at taking on the corporate supremacy and taking on the individual supremacy. I think the idea of workers really banding together, it has not always, historically, been great at taking on white supremacy. But I wanted to call your attention to an op-ed that was just published in The Stand by the Washington state Labor Council President, Larry Brown, and the Secretary Treasurer, April Sims, saying that we all need to call out white supremacy and really thank them for their leadership and thank our labor leaders in this room who have been fighting for a deeply interconnected, interracial, solidarity of workers from everywhere.


PJ: (11:41)

So I have a question for you, which is— I sort of laid out what I see as the problems. There are many more, I’m sure, but before we get to the solutions, how did we get into this mess? What are the things that have happened over the past couple of decades, past many decades, that have led us to this place where we suddenly find ourselves with these big structural problems? What are the key factors that have led us to where we are today?

RR: (12:15)

Perhaps the best way of responding is to use your framework. I have corporate supremacy, white supremacy and the individual supremacy. Because if you look back over the last, let’s say 70 years, 72 years post-World War II, I think that we can see the seeds of the problems beginning long ago. And it’s interesting to me because I grew up kind of lower middle class, Northeast, not in a community that was very self-aware, certainly about corporate supremacy or white supremacy. And their individual supremacy was not an issue because the community was still quite strong. It was a little town, but it had its own integrity.

RR: (13:13)

But corporations in those days, were not so focused on maximizing shareholder wellbeing. In fact, before the takeover artists of the 1980s, most corporations really did respond to a kind of stakeholder capitalism. The CEO in the 1950s, for example, typically was making 20 times the average worker. Today, it’s almost 300 times the average worker in the 1950s, about 33%, 35% of the workforce was unionized private sector. Today it’s fewer than 7%. And in the ‘50s, although women were second class citizens, blacks and Latinos were second class citizens. There were at least beginning, it wasn’t the ‘50s, it was the 60’s just beginning a consciousness that we did have to do something. And I remember the civil rights movement and the civil rights, ultimately the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and efforts to provide more opportunities to women just beginning. Things were at least moving in the right direction. And then came the ‘80s. Now, I’ve already mentioned Carl Icahn. I hadn’t mentioned him by name, so I won’t, it’s not fair to mention anybody by name.


RR: (14:43)

And the takeover artists and their change of the corporations to—from stakeholder to shareholder capitalism. But one thing that came out of that was a huge, huge movement and really, redistribution of money—wealth and income—from workers to shareholders and CEOs and top corporate executives. It really is quite outstanding. In fact, there was a study that came out just about a month ago, three academics who did put a lot of time and effort into this and they found that—and they looked at these two periods of time—they looked at the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s versus the ‘80s, ‘90s and et cetera. And they saw that before 1980, the shareholder, whenever shares went up, in fact, the stock market did go up somewhat in those years, about 60% of the increase in the value of the stock market was due to economic growth. After the 1980s, about 60% of the increase in the stock market, which increased much, much further was due to taking money out of the pockets of workers.

RR: (16:03)

That’s a huge change. And if we had more time, we’d get to—and I want to just mention this because I think that this country’s always had white supremacy. I mean, racism is not new. Racism goes right back to the beginning, before the beginning, of 400 years. And xenophobia and the worst forms of nativism. But what is it that aggravated it more intensely starting in the ‘80s I think it was that white men started to see their wages flatten, start to get very anxious about change, started to get very worried because almost all of the economic gains were going to the top. They were not sharing in them and it was just almost inviting demagogues. I’m not going to call any Republican a demagogue.


RR: (17:02)

But you get my drift because when you have that much built up frustration and anger, it’s easy to channel it toward immigrants and toward African Americans and toward others who are “them”. And I think that that divide and conquer strategy has been used more and more. I remember Richard Nixon using it—you remember “welfare queens”—you know this is dog whistle politics. But it starts increasing more intensely as wages start flattening and people get more and more anxious about their status.

PJ: (17:48)

What’s the percentage? Is it 90% of GDP growth right now that goes to 10% of the people? I think that’s the right statistic. It’s somewhere around there in the ‘80s. What was it then?

RR: (18:00)

Oh, very different.

PJ: (18:01)

Very different, right? It was like 6—I think it was like 60% or that it was equally distributed. I forget what the numbers are now.

RR: (18:11)

Well in terms of income, you had in the 1950s and ‘60s, the top 10% were taking home roughly 30%, 40% total income. Now, really, the top 10% are taking home about 60% total income and almost all total wealth. The top 10% really have 82% of the total wealth that is generated in any year. But the thing that we don’t focus on is that wealth inequality is growing faster than income inequality. So if you look at the bottom half of this country, the bottom half, they have 1.5% of the wealth.

PJ: (18:57)

Yeah. The statistic I use a lot is 3 people have, in the country, have the same wealth as the bottom 50%, which is 160 million. And guess what guys? Two of them live in our state.

PJ: (19:15)

it’s just a fact. It wasn’t a judgment. It’s just a fact. (laughs)

RR: (19:18)

But here, this gets back to you, Congresswoman, because when you have that degree of income and wealth disparity, that I think does affect everything else we’re talking about, it does aggravate racism and xenophobia and it does lead to a kind of individualism when everybody’s competing more intensely with everybody else because everybody’s competing for the crumbs as the rest of the pie gets run off with. So from the standpoint of power, now economists always say that economics is not necessarily a zero sum game. You can have billionaires, but that doesn’t take away from anybody else. But power is a zero sum game. The more power is located at the top, the less there is by definition. Any place else. You are a member of the United States Congress, thank the Lord. (laughter and applause) And thanks, Seattle. But here’s my question for you. Power is so differently allocated than it has been in this country since the 1890s. We have power that is more concentrated, corporate power and individual wealth. And how do you, as a member of Congress, deal with that? I mean now that amount of money, that amount of power is just overwhelming Washington. How do you deal with it?

PJ: (20:57)

Well, I think one of the first things is the thing that ties money to power is the way in which money is used to influence elections. And I really believe that one of the key things we have to do is pass, you know, dramatic reform to get money out of politics and—


PJ: (21:23)

Elizabeth Warren and I have a sweeping anti-corruption bill that we’ve introduced.

PJ: (21:30)

We Democrats, our first order of business when we took the majority was to pass HR1, which is also a fantastic anti-corruption bill. It does not take on one of the things I would like to do is take on this revolving door of lobbyists because you see Congress members and Paul Ryan just move to Washington D.C., moved his family there. You see the lobbyists controlling everything. And so for one of the first times, I think, in recent history we have this situation where the majority of people in the country can believe that we should have gun reform through sensible background checks—90% of Americans—and yet we don’t get it. You know, the majority of people believe we should have immigration reform and yet we don’t get it. And so you see this happening over and over again, climate change, the vast majority of Americans believe climate change is real and we need some sort of a Green New Deal to address it. And so the fact that we don’t get it done is, and I see it every day, it’s because there is this hoard of lobbyists and corporate cash that pours in. It’s why I don’t take corporate PAC money.

But for a lot of members it skews what we should do. So that’s, I would say, one of the first things. I think the second thing is to really think carefully since it’s Labor Day, to think carefully about how we strengthen the power of workers to organize and—


PJ: (23:06)

We have something called the ProAct which would give more power to workers to be able to organize. But I also think that we need to think about new ways of worker organizing. I have a domestic workers bill of rights, a national domestic workers bill of rights that I’ve introduced with Kamala Harris that would really take on that sector of unorganized workers that are at home, domestic workers that are at home and include them in civil rights protections that they were left out of. But beyond that, look at what’s happened with the teacher strikes.

And by the way, Seattle teachers, congratulations on your fantastic raises and fantastic bargaining agreement. And thank you to the Seattle school district as well. I’m really, really proud of what happened here in Seattle. But if you look at the teacher strikes, those were sectorial strikes, they were enterprise strikes. And I think we do need to think about new ways of organizing that are about industries and sectors rather than companies because I think that would give workers way more power. So that’s the second thing. And then I think that there’s a lot of other pieces to how we deal with corporate power that everything from making sure that we—I think Medicare for All actually does that. And maybe that’s because I’m biased because I’m the lead sponsor of the Medicare for All bill in the House.


PJ: (24:36)

But I do think healthcare is a human right. And I think that when you have people who are so dependent on certain things in order to get healthcare, whether it’s an employer or whether it’s GoFundMe, you simply cannot amass the kind of power that you need to take on the structures that we have. So there’s a number of different pieces here, but I think that all of those—and then I think immigration reform is actually, it is solidifying power within the hands of corporations. It is allowing for us to be divided. It is the lack of it, I should say. It is allowing for us to continue to have somebody to blame, an immigrant to blame. Well, you know, if we just had a general strike and every immigrant in the country refuse to go to work, the country would shut down and people would understand that you actually need immigrants in this country and that we are valuable and always have been. But there is this push and pull in the United States of America that goes back to the Chinese Exclusion Act and before that, to the original sin of racism and genocide of Native Americans. And so I don’t know how, you know, I think the fact that we have a reparations bill in the House that I’m a proud sponsor of, at least we can start to talk about some of these things that have been pushed to the side and really have not had any space to come forward.

RR: (26:00)

Well, I think on immigration, the only people who have standing to complain about immigrants are Native Americans.

PJ: (26:07)

And they never have.


RR: (26:13)

But let me just go back to policy for a second, Congresswoman, because I love policy. I teach policy, I breathe policy, I did policy, I work policy, I administered policy, but we’re no longer in a policy world right now. We can come up with the best policies. It’s easy to say “get big money out of politics”, it’s easy to say “Medicare for All”, it’s easy to say “Green New Deal”. It’s easy to say, policy after policy—it doesn’t matter. It’s a chicken and egg problem because in order to get the policies enacted, we’ve got to have the power and the people don’t have the power. And so I’d like to get your reaction to the following hypothesis. It’s a little bit radical.


PJ: (27:17)

We’d expect nothing less.

RR: (27:18)

No, no and I don’t usually state it fully as I’m about to state it in mixed company, publicly, but I will. We are in the habit in this country of seeing the great political debate as Democrats versus Republicans or conservatives versus liberals or big government versus small government or all of the ways that we have been debating policy. I think that that’s becoming obsolete. I think the real contest is between oligarchy and democracy.


RR: (28:03)

And some people agree with me and I was a little bit nervous to even say that.

PJ: (28:07)

It’s Seattle.

RR: (28:08)

But Seattle. That’s why I love to come to Seattle. And by the way, I live in Berkeley. So I have free speech. But if that is the case, if the real battle is not the way we’ve been thinking about it. If it really is more and more centralized power and wealth at the top, creating constant decoys and diversions and everything else, divide and conquer strategies in terms of getting everybody else to not see what’s actually happening. How do we, as politicians, as writers, pundits, whatever, how do we, as citizens, how do we take back power from the oligarchy?

PJ: (29:03)

I spent 20 years as an organizer. And I might re-characterize what you said, it’s not that the people don’t have power it’s that we don’t use it. We don’t exercise it. And that’s not to say that there aren’t huge barriers against us and money coming in against us, but the reality is if you look at 2018 and you just think about the diversity of people that got elected across the country in districts that we never thought were possible. So Democrat and Republican kind of went out of the door and you look at the people of color that got elected. You look at the women that got elected, you saw something becoming possible. But in order for that to be the case, people have to have hope that if they participate in democracy, that democracy will actually be democracy. So in other words, if you elect somebody and they get the most votes, they should be president.


PJ: (30:13)

Or the idea that if you elect somebody that they should not be sitting in their congressional seat or whatever, elected office and saying, “let me look at where the polls are today” and “let me determine my position based on the polling”—which is not to say we don’t look at polls. Of course we do, we’re interested in them. We look at them, we get information from them. We make decisions partly based on polling, but I really believe that the American people are smarter than that. And what they want are people who are authentic and have integrity and will vote and then explain the vote. Explain the vote. But actually use the position to lead from and not just to follow. And that I think is something that we are still building that group of people who say, and there are many examples of this in the Congress today, especially with this new class that’s been elected where people say, “you know what? I am going to do what I think is the right thing to do”.

And that means I will put my name on something that might be seen as controversial, and you even see it with some of the swing district Democrats who have come out for an impeachment inquiry. And yes, we’re doing an impeachment teach-in on Saturday at Benaroya Hall. It is almost oversubscribed, I think. But Jamie Raskin, my colleague from judiciary is coming out and we’ll explain the whole process of impeachment and what is the standing in the constitution, what are the rights of Congress of the judiciary committee, et cetera. So it really, hopefully will be educational about what this all plays out to look like. But we have to start taking back our power. And that means we need to have people who are willing to speak to people that perhaps they haven’t spoken to before.

PJ: (32:03)

If you think about Obama in 2008 and you think about 2018 what happened is the electric got expanded. People got inspired to believe that their vote actually mattered, that they were excited about the vision that was being proposed, that it wasn’t just let’s nibble around the edges, but these are deep structural problems that you’ve talked about that we’ve talked about here and they’re not going to be fixed by little nibbles around the edges. We will need bold structural change and we will need people who are willing to do that and willing to put a forward, willing to build the movement for it. And then we will need people on the ground who are ready to organize. Who are ready to get people engaged, paying attention and yes, voting.


RR: (33:01)

I agree, but let me play a role that I hate playing and I never play and I play it only in the shower, actually, with myself. And that is: devil’s advocate. If you look back at history, going all the way back to the oligarchies and the tyrants of history, all of recorded history, you see that there are several techniques used by oligarchs, and oligarchies, small groups with huge wealth and huge power to retain their wealth and power.

RR: (33:38)

And one of the things they do, I’ve already alluded to and that is, I call, divide and conquer. That is, they stir people up. They get people angry at each other so they forget the real source of a lot of their problems. The second thing they do is they breed a kind of cynicism and powerlessness. They make people feel like things are so out of control and out of their hands that there is nothing, whatever that they can do and they just stop effectively reading the papers or being citizens. They give up out of just desperation and desolation and demoralization. A third thing that oligarchies do is they use entrenchment. They make it more difficult to vote. They suppress the vote, and in modern times what we see is all over the country. The efforts to make it harder, not only to vote, but you alluded to the use of the electoral college, the use of gerrymandering, a Supreme court that says that partisan gerrymandering is okay and we know that that is going to be used as a cue to do a lot of racial gerrymandering that is disguised as partisan gerrymandering. Purging of voter rolls. How, given these age old techniques: divide and conquer, disillusionment and cynicism and voter suppression. How do we, and I’m saying all of us, not from the standpoint of a policy, because remember we’re in a chicken and egg problem. We can’t get the policy until we’re actually, we have power. How do we fight back against these techniques? I’ll give you my 2 cents first. No, I’ll give them my 2 cents after.

PJ: (35:48)

No, no, tell me yours. No, no, tell me yours.

RR: (35:50)

Because you’re on the front line. I want to know how you think about these things.

PJ: (35:54)

For me, it really does come—look we, and I’m speaking now as an immigrant woman of color, we have been under attack for a very long time and every time we have had the power structures levied against folks, that was true during slavery. It was true in all these different times over the course of history. And yes, the power systems were different at that time. They didn’t exhibit in the same way, but the only way I believe for people to have power is to demand it. Frederick Douglas said power never concedes anything without a demand.


PJ: (36:30)

And so those tactics have to be at the grassroots level and they do have to be universal. I mean we, part of the reason I called out Larry Brown and April Sims’s op-ed is because they say, look, labor unions and we have the best in the country. I mean, I’m so proud of our unions here in the state. This is a common tactic that has been used for a very long time, to divide and conquer. And so I really do believe that the ultimate answer is for people to refuse to allow their power to be taken away. That is not a quick fix. It may provide some gains in the most immediate future, but it is not a quick fix. And in order for it to succeed, we do need to address the threat that is in the White House that is using the most powerful bully pulpit that is around—

RR: (37:30)

Giving new meaning to bully. Pulpit.

PJ: (37:32)

Yes, literally, literally the bully and the bully pulpit. And so we have to address that because that is so much power that is being utilized from that spot in a very different way than it was ever imagined. And that probably our founding framers ever imagined. It’s not really, there isn’t really the speed within the remedies whether it’s going to court or whether it’s using Congress in a very divided time. So that is really what I believe. But I’m really curious because I think you have some answers. Don’t you think he’s got some answers he wants us to consider?

PJ: (38:05)

So, I’m really curious to hear what you think, Secretary Reich.

RR: (38:17)

I don’t have any answers, but I have some intuitions. And one has to do with what I call “progressive apartheid”. That is, we live in our own progressive bubbles that are getting larger and larger but have less and fewer and fewer, senatorial representatives and we talk to each other and become more and more certain of the righteousness of ourselves. But the question that I keep on struggling with is how we get out of our bubbles and how we actually force ourselves to go out and talk to people who disagree with us, disagree with us. I tell my students, I tell my students the best way to learn anything is to sit down with somebody who disagrees with you because then your ideas and your fundamental assumptions are tested. And if you can listen carefully with an open mind and get them to also hear you, and the first way to get them to hear you is you hear them, then we can get someplace.

RR: (39:40)

But if we’re just Berkeley and Seattle and all of these little blue places—some very large blue places—but they still are blue, we’re not getting anywhere. So that’s point number one. But point number two has to do with some experiences that some of you just judging from how I see you from here might remember, are old enough to remember, now I lived through the Vietnam war era and also the civil rights movement. And a lot of us were out on the streets a lot of the time. There were a lot of mass protests, a lot of mass movement, a lot of energy. And yet we’re not doing that. Now, there are a lot of good reasons why we’re not, but I think we have to, and I think we have to make a real ruckus.


RR: (40:47)

And I could go on, but this brings me to a question for you.

PJ: (40:51)

Let me just say two things about that. On the first one, I totally agree with you. And sometimes I ask people when they ask me what they can do because they have a rep that believes with you know, agrees with them on many things. How many of you have family members that you have different political views from? And how many of you actually have those conversations with them?

PJ: (41:20)

So this is a thing, right? It’s an easy—

RR: (41:23)

How many people are still on speaking terms with them?


PJ: (41:26)

But it’s an easy place to start that engagement with loved ones. But most of the time we shy away from it. But I think the other thing is I go on Fox News. I used to. I haven’t for a little bit because I’ve been so frustrated with how they cover things. But the reason I do that is because I think it does help us to understand and to talk and even if the news anchors aren’t with us, the people that are listening to Fox News need to hear something else. And I do, I really do agree with you on the second point about—to me that’s organizing, what you talked about, general strikes, protests in the street. You didn’t say general— can you tell I have general strikes on my mind? But just reviewing labor history, right?

PJ: (42:11)

And thinking about this. But to me that is a form of organizing and coming from India just recently thinking about nonviolent civil disobedience and the role that it has played around the world, here in this country and other countries and how we need to get back to some of the tenets of that and what it really means. Not just sort of the way it’s being done where you block a street, but the deep training, strategic thinking around a target, figuring out exactly what that mass protest looks like and what that civil disobedience looks like and what is going to be on the line. Not just going to jail for a night, but what is actually going to be on the line. And I think that those are things that we need to retrain ourselves in and remind ourselves about the power of those kinds of nonviolent protests.

RR: (43:08)

Well, I think that one way of getting into that might be to take an issue, such as big money in politics or draining the swamp. Something that a lot of conservatives and Republicans, at least at the level of the grassroots would say they believe must be done and try to have a mass march, a mass movement, a general strike, a something that unites enough of us more visibly than ever before, at least in the last 20 years. And signals unambiguously that we are together about some fundamental principle of democracy.

PJ: (43:57)

Totally agree. It’s got to have some consequence though because we did that with the family separations within two weeks we had half a million people in the streets and it was not just Democrats, it was Republicans, Democrats, independents. But there needs to be a next place that we push to. So, I’m getting the sign. We’re getting the cane.

RR: (44:18)

Are we getting the cane? Are we getting pulled off the stage?

PJ: (44:18)

Yeah, we’re getting the cane.

RR: (44:21)

Okay. No, we’re not getting pulled off the stage. We’re going to turn now to questions. Your questions.

PJ: (44:26)

Questions. Yes. We’re getting the cane for us to stop talking and for you to ask questions. So I think there’s two mics, one on either side and we’ll just go back and forth.

House Manager: (44:35)

Yes. Thank you both so much. And thank you all so much.


Audience Question 1: (44:45)

Secretary Reich, I’m wondering if you’d comment on the position at the business round table took recently on the role of corporations.

RR: (44:56)

I think it’s better than nothing, but it’s pretty close to nothing. Because what the business roundtable was essentially saying is, “Oh, it would be really, yes, we really do want to listen to and honor all our constituents.” But the problem is there’s, again, there’s absolutely no reason to suppose they do or would. It’s just public relations unless you change the structure of the economy and the structure of finance so that businesses have to listen to their workers. So workers are on the boards of directors, so workers have actually shares of stock in companies. So the companies actually have—so workers have more power and communities have more power. And we’re talking about real power here. That nice statement from the business roundtable is worth less than the ink that was spent in the cartridge that made the ink cartridge statement paper.

Audience Question 2: (45:56)

The question about impeachment and does it make sense to proceed with impeachment given that there’s so much distraction with the election? That’s part one. Part two is if proceeding with impeachment is a viable way to proceed, my question is first, Secretary Reich, would you consider making videos on some of the more egregious examples of obstruction of justice from the Mueller report?

PJ: (46:31)

So, we’ll be able to talk about this all in detail on Saturday, but I’ll just quickly say that we are already in an impeachment investigation. That means we, at the judiciary committee, are considering whether or not to recommend full articles of impeachment to the full House for a vote. And my question would turn that question around and say, can we afford not to consider impeachment?


PJ: (47:05)

And the reason is somewhat devoid from the next election, which is if we give away that fundamental power that our framers gave to us in article one, I mean we are at least co-equal branches of government, but we’re article one—Congress is article one—then what does that mean for our democracy and for checks and balances? And does it mean you could a dictator or a demagogue or anyone come in and basically do whatever they want for four years? Maybe hope that the courts will save you, but literally take the power away from the body that is supposed to oversee. To me, it’s a constitutional duty that we’re sworn to do. And we just have to do it.

PJ: (47:54)

On the videos, let me just recommend going to House Judiciary Dems Twitter account and there are videos on the 5— there are 10 obstruction of justice events laid out, incidents, laid out in the Mueller report. There are 5 that are particularly compelling and House Judiciary has created very short, not the Secretary Reich-type deep explainers that are there, but just a two minute video that would be really good for everyone to watch. But I think it would be great if the Secretary wanted to do that as well and go into those in some more depth.

RR: (48:32)

Let me make a suggestion for House Democrats, and you can carry this to Nancy Pelosi if you wish. And the suggestion is two things: number one, that House Democrats make it very clear that impeachment under the constitution is setting up a trial in the Senate. It is gathering the evidence, it is an inquiry. It is not actually a conviction of impeachment that goes to the Senate. And number two, that it has already begun. So those two, the public doesn’t know either of those.

PJ: (49:16)

Yes, it’s been very confused. And I, I’m pretty sure that the Secretary has a direct line to Nancy Pelosi anytime he wants it, but I will be happy to carry that message back. In fact, I already have, but yes, I think it’s been very confused and I don’t think it’s done us many favors because people are confused. Not everybody understands. People are still calling for an impeachment inquiry to start while we’re in the middle of an investigation right now we have already filed that paperwork with the courts to say that that is why we need the documents quickly and we need people to come and testify. And then the second piece, that’s why we’re doing the impeachment teach-in, honestly, because I really feel like we need to be able to talk as a community about what this process is. What does it look like? It is a process. The House can vote to forward the articles of impeachment to the Senate, but then the Senate can conduct its trial, which is what it is and it can decide not to impeach. So people really have to understand that even if we were to recommend number one, even if we were to vote number two, that still doesn’t rid the White House of the man that is there. You understand that, right? Then it goes to the Senate, two thirds majority to convict. So—

RR: (50:36)

Well there has never been in the history of this country an impeachment conviction that has driven a president out of office. I think that’s important.

PJ: (50:46)

Yes, very important though Richard Nixon resigned because it was so clear that he would be impeached. When the impeachment hearings started for Richard Nixon, only 19% of the public thought he should be impeached. By the end, it was so inevitable because people had to have the information laid out to them. So again, I just think we have to lay out the information for people and see where it takes us.


Audience Question 3: (51:15)

Hi, I’m with T-Mobile Workers United. We’re trying to organize a T-Mobile call center in Wichita, Kansas. We’re part of Communications Workers of America. I was curious to see what you guys think about—’cause I guess I think one of the answers is positive reinforcement. What do you guys think of legislation that revokes a lot of the tax cuts for corporations that were recently passed and maybe awards corporations with tax cuts for engaging in collective bargaining with their employees. That’s my idea.

RR: (51:45)

Not only would I be in favor of that, but I just want to just say publicly for the record that T-Mobile, Sprint proposed merger should not ever be allowed to take place.


RR: (52:04)

These are two irresponsible firms. They’re virulently anti-union and T-Mobile, you know, T-Mobile is actually, is majority owned by a German company that has a supervisory board that is half workers and I hope you are actively getting them involved.

Good. Good.


Audience Question 4: (52:30)

You’re right. I want to know in your life, who made you the kind of activist and author that you are today? Who inspired you the most when you were a student? When you started writing, what kind of people inspired you to be the kind of man you are today?

RR: (52:51)

Well, that’s a hard question to answer because it assumes that I agree with you about what I do. But I’ll tell you my mentor when I was an undergraduate was a fellow named John Kenneth Galbraith.


RR: (53:11)

And he was an activist. He was in the government. He was in the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt and in the Kennedy administration.

AQ4: (53:22)


RR: (53:22)

And a brilliant and deeply, deeply progressive in every bone man. His only problem was he was too tall.


RR: (53:36)

He was 6 foot 7. And we, we never quite saw eye-to-eye.


AQ4: (53:50)

I have to tell you too. Reading you in the New York times every day is the highlight of my day. And thank you for the article you appear in the New York times. They’re terrific.

RR: (54:04)

Let me just say, there are heroes that we ought to celebrate all the time. And we were talking about Paul Wellstone a little while ago.


RR: (54:17)

And he reminded me that just before the vote in the Senate on the resolution, with regard to the Iraqi war, Paul Wellstone and I were very good friends and he called me and he said, “I just got the results of the polls in Minnesota and about 85% of my constituents in Minnesota think we should go into Iraq.” And he said, “But I’m going to vote against the resolution.” And I said, “Well, that’s very, that’s very big of you, Paul, and I really admire you for it, but I don’t want to lose you because you have an election coming up.” And he laughed. And I said, “Why are you laughing? That’s not funny.” And he said, “You just watch my polls because I’m going to vote my conscience and I’m going to explain to the people of Minnesota why I am voting the way I am and my polls are actually going to go up.” And I said, “Well, good luck.” And he was right.


Audience Question 5: (55:29)

Hi. Thanks for coming tonight. I have a question about Medicare for All, and it’s kind of two parts. One relates to what you were talking about, which is how do you envision Medicare for All actually passing a Congress that, even if the Democrats won in 2020, even took over the Senate, there are so many special interests involved, healthcare, or excuse me, insurance companies, et cetera. And the other part is I think you propose like a two year transition. And I was wondering how you can see that happening so quickly with something that’s, I think almost 20% of GDP or something like that.

PJ: (56:02)

Thank you for those questions. I just think that these policy ideas have so much opposition because they are so powerful. So if you look at polling across the country, if you talk to Americans every day, this is the thing that they know about. They know their family member, their daughter, their son, their loved one has died because they can’t get a cancer treatment, or is suffering, because they can’t get insulin. You know, these are real issues for people. Half a million Americans every year are going into bankruptcy due to medical costs. The most popular insurance program is GoFundMe, the charity of your neighbors. Insulin costs 10 times as much as it does in Canada. And so this is a real issue for people and they understand it deeply and so they’re not as quick to be fooled by all the money that’s pouring in. That said, $300 to $400 million dollars, Bernie and I calculated, at least that we know of that’s being poured into defeating Medicare for all and yet it is still a national conversation on the stage and it’s because of activists and nurses and doctors and labor leaders and all of you in the room who have been fighting for this.

PJ: (57:25)

And we have 118—we have over half of the Democratic caucus on the bill. We’ve had three hearings in the House of Representatives for the first time in the history of our country. We’re talking, we’re actually having hearings on a single payer bill that has not happened before. And so it is not going to be easy, but we are continuing to build power and momentum. And the thing that we really need to do that we haven’t been able to do yet is fully explain exactly what Medicare for All is so that people understand it. And the Secretary and I were talking about private insurance and we should be clear that Medicare for all envisions a system that is guaranteed government insurance. So no matter where you go, no matter what job you have, you have the same insurance and that is provided by the government. But private insurance companies, we’re not getting rid of them. They can exist. They just can’t provide duplicative coverage, which is what we have right now in Medicare.

PJ: (58:26)

And so we need to be clear about what these things are. We need to be clear that it doesn’t limit your choice to do that. We’re using the same network of doctors and hospitals. Guess what? The people that are dying today, the 70 million Americans who are uninsured or underinsured, they don’t have any choice. And we will actually expand choice because we won’t have out of network hospitals. So anyway, all of those details we need to be able to explain. But the Secretary was making the point to me earlier that we have to be careful not to go too deeply into the weeds. So this is part of the conundrum is: how do we explain and counter some of the things that are out there but not get pulled down into the weeds? Quickly on two years. Bernie’s bill is four years. I decided to make mine two because a lot of the economists I spoke to, by the way, 200 economists have come out, signed a letter supporting our bill, which is really fantastic.


PJ: (59:22)

But two years is not actually that long. When you think about the fact that Medicare is already enrolling huge numbers of people. When Medicare and social security were introduced, there were no computers, but I think it was a year. That was the transition time. So we can do this, we need to combine our computer systems, make sure that works. But then we really should be able to transition. And so in my plan, the first year is doing that. The preparation work. The second year covers 55 and over and 19 and under. And then by the third year everyone is on board. Why not have a longer transition plan? Because if you do, you have to keep a system in place. The current system in place, which is actually going to probably drive costs up according to the economists I’ve spoken to because they know they’re going to leave the marketplace, they know it’s going to be done.

PJ: (01:00:19)

So you’re basically dragging out a process, probably driving costs up and people will get frustrated because they’re not going to see things change quickly. They’re going to be waiting for four years. And so we think two years is the right—but listen, if we get to the part where we’re actually figuring this all out and people want to debate me about two years versus three, happy to do it. Those are details. They don’t really matter in the long run. What matters is the will to do it. And really having the courage to take on the special interests that benefit from the current system.


Audience Question 6: (01:00:59)

Hi. I have a question mostly for Dr. Reich. Reading Picketty, Capital in the 21st Century, he pretty well illustrates that capitalism leads to an oligarchy versus democracy economic system. So that is something that underlies our country. That is something that he argues has underlain what has happened since 1980. That 1950 to 1980 was an anomaly. And I’m wondering how you would approach breaking down that underlying momentum almost of what capitalism does. He has an idea of a universal tax on capital, but I wonder if anyone else has broached other ideas.

RR: (01:01:48)

Well, you have to start somewhere. And I think that his idea is a first cousin to Elizabeth Warren’s idea in terms of a wealth tax on very high incomes.


RR: (01:02:04)

And that’s where I would begin. There is absolutely no reason that anybody needs the incentive of being a multi-billionaire to work hard. In other words, we have this odd thing in this country right now in which conservatives and Republicans for years have been saying, with the oligarchy behind them, well, if you’re very rich, you need the incentive and the motivation of even more money to work harder. If you’re a working class person, you need the incentive of the possibility of less money to work harder. They can’t just both be right. And I just think you’ve got to go after the billionaires first.


RR: (01:02:54)

Is Jeff Bezos in the audience? It struck me that he might—no (laughter)

Audience Question 7: (01:03:01)

Hi, I’m a shop steward for my store with UFCW 21, and we’re currently in contract negotiations and we’re at a meeting and we had a question come up I couldn’t really answer. And that was “what are the benefits to the corporate powers that be if they would pay us more?

AQ7: (01:03:26)

And I had a few ideas, but I was wondering if you guys would probably know. (inaudible)


RR: (01:03:31)

Well, I can start. I think that the research shows that one of the biggest benefits of paying workers more is you get less turnover, more loyalty, you don’t have to spend as much. One of the biggest hidden expenses that companies deal with is the cost of retraining and the cost of basically getting people on the experience curve again. And if you pay people more, they simply will stay. They’ll be more loyal. There’s also a lot of literature about the myriad ways in which workers who don’t feel an ownership stake. And this gets us into laws that make it more, even easier for companies to become employee stock ownership dominated. But there’s a lot of literature that those companies do better. They have a higher return of investment. Workers on the front line know how to improve productivity better than anybody from a business management school from McKinsey who is kind of going in and doing a report. It’s the people on the frontline who know this stuff. And so you’ve got to give them an ownership interest. And I could go on for another half an hour on this. It’s one of my favorite topics.

PJ: (01:04:57)

I just wanted to add one thing, which is when we were fighting for 15 here in Seattle, this question came up a lot that if we raise the wages, it’s going to hurt businesses and we made the argument, which I think has shown true in the research, which is that if you raise the wages, those workers have more money. They’re not at the top of the scale. They’re not going and putting that money into savings or you know, things like that, they’re actually spending it back in the economy. And so it’s a cycle that also benefits the economy. When workers have more money, they spend it. When they spend it, businesses do better. When those businesses do better, the workers should do better. That should be a principle that if the businesses are doing well, the people that are fueling those businesses should also do well. And so that’s another, and wish you good luck in the contract negotiations, UFCW.

RR: (01:05:47)

Can I just pick on—I know we have limited time and we want to get to your questions, but this principle that when you pay people more or people take home more money, they actually spend it and keep the economy going and create jobs is one of the most important principles that stands in sharp contradistinction to what’s happening in the economy in which more and more of the winning, the wages and the wealth and the economy are going to the top. People at the top don’t spend. They just don’t spend. They save and they save all over the world. They save in the Bahamas. They put it into everything you can imagine. They’re not putting it in the local economy. They’re not creating jobs. And we’ve got to get that word out very loudly and clearly.


Audience Question 8: (01:06:40)

Hi. Hello. This is Manny for Congresswoman Jayapal, but I don’t want to be exclusive. Do you see a role in how the legislature and/or, indeed, maybe whether they should be involved in, compelling, or at least making it easier for corporate boards to include members of organized labor on those boards?

PJ: (01:07:02)

Yeah and there are some proposals around this as well, but I think that’s what the Secretary was talking about. If you actually had boards and places in Europe do this, if you actually had boards that had representation from the workers and from management, you would have that buy-in and you would have power at the highest decision making places. So, I do think that those are the kind of structural reforms that we need to make. And it goes to the point of who fuels the wealth that a corporation makes. It is the workers. It is the people that are doing the work. And if you look at manufacturing processes and research that’s been done around manufacturing processes, the most efficient assembly lines are the ones where workers have the ability to make changes to whatever’s happening. So yes, I’m in favor of those kinds of pieces of legislation.

AQ8: (01:07:58)

How can you do that as a legislator? Do you have ideas about making that easier to accomplish?

PJ: (01:08:07)

I mean, yeah, there are some bills now. I think we woud in the ProAct we don’t go that far, but there are some ways in which we start to set up those kinds of structures for workers to actually participate in decision making. I’d have to go back and look at what legislation is out there right now, but I think you can legislate it. You can do it through the articles of incorporation. I mean—

RR: (01:08:34)

Yes, you can go through the articles of incorporation, but you can also—basically, a corporation has limited liability and it has eternal life. Those are two things given to it by state governments and also indirectly by the federal government on top of which there are all kinds of other tax benefits the corporations get. There is no reason the federal government couldn’t say, well, if you want limited liability and you want eternal life and you want all these tax benefits, then here’s what you have to do. These are the conditions. One condition is you’ve got to have half of your board, your employees.

PJ: (01:09:13)

And why do we have to have eternal life? I mean that’s another question cause I know there was a time when it was 10, 20, 30 years. It wasn’t eternal life and it would probably be very hard to roll back. But you know, I do think that we should relook at these things that have just sort of emerged and become standard. They weren’t always the case.

Audience Question 9: (01:09:34)

Hi. I was wondering if you’d be willing to take on one of these three things. One, I ask people to get involved and the answer is, “I vote.” And that’s the end of the conversation. So if you had something insightful for that situation. Number two, ask people about getting involved and they say, “Well, I don’t want to impose my views on somebody else.” So, if you have something insightful to say about that. And number three, option, all of these are optional. You have this great canvas behind you. It seems under utilized. I’m wondering if you would consider putting up something up there that people would learn from something—”top three takeaways of the night” or something like that. People are visual learners too, not just audible. So take those however you want. Any insights you got.

RR: (01:10:24)

Well, look, I think we need to, as a society, as a nation, we need to inculcate in our young people and in certainly in ourselves, the notion that citizenship is not just voting or serving on juries or paying taxes. Citizenship is an active practice. Now that’s hard. Let’s acknowledge that that’s hard. A lot of people, we have working families, they’re working all hours, they’re trying to bring up kids, they’re trying to get a lot done. They don’t have the time. But in my experience, if people think something is important enough, they will give it time. And there is nothing more important than our democracy. Nothing. Now one other piece of that, the reason I spend as much time as I do teaching over the last 40 years, that’s really what I’ve done mostly is because I believe in these young people. And this is something that you, who are parents and grandparents, you can do. This young generation has voted in 2018 to a much greater extent. We broke all records in terms of young people voting in 2018. They are—


RR: (01:11:48)

It’s terrific. They are also my students, this generation are the most committed and dedicated and involved and public service oriented of any generation of students I have ever, ever encountered.


RR: (01:12:04)

And number three, many of them, because I’ve been teaching so long, but many of them over the last five or six years are getting involved in politics. They’re getting involved in local politics. And they are doing wonderful things. One of my students here in Seattle, I came up, Andrew Lewis, are you here? You’re running for city council. There he is. Andrew.


RR: (01:12:33)

I say to my students, “Go out and change the world, but start with your local city.” And Andrew took me literally and thank you, Andrew. But this is a time of being incredibly appreciative of our young people, but also instilling in them a sense that they have inherited a mess and they are going to have to clean it up. And make this a more perfect union and they have the power to do it. Politics is a privilege, a privilege.


PJ: (01:13:12)

Well, you talk about in your book to your public service and I think that there are so many young people that I talk to who would love that. You know, the public service loan forgiveness was in that concept. Now Betsy Devoss is rolling that back. But the idea that that service is a service not only to the country but also a service to the person as they learn and they grow and they’re able to contribute and they think about their work as being far more than just the vote. But in the end, I would just say that people will do things when they are inspired to do them. And so we also have to be inspiring and we have to have ideas that are not just about opposition or about minimal change around the edges, but about proposition, about vision, about calling people into something that is different than what they see today.

PJ: (01:14:08)

Because my 22 year old tells me that what they today is no planet, you know, interminable student loans and no real opportunity because it is an oligarchy. It is controlled by corporate power. And so we’ve got to inspire people by having ideas that are of the caliber of ending slavery and sending a man to the moon and giving women the right to vote. Those are things that America is good at. We have been good at redefining and reimagining who we are in a way that is bigger than what is in front of us but is looking forward. And I think that’s ultimately what gets people engaged.


Audience Question 10: (01:14:58)

Hi, my name is Sarah and I’m an elder millennial. Which means that I belong to a generation whose biggest work category is freelancer, gig economy worker, consultant. And it means that we don’t have any labor protections except hiring a lawyer and many of us can’t afford to do so. So, as we’re talking about oligarchy and power and the ability to organize, to this sector of the economy that is a growing, and I would say, hardscrabble sector of the economy, what ideas do you have for policies, practices that could help support this sector of the economy and being a more powerful or empowered force? Thanks.

RR: (01:15:47)

Shall I begin? Well, first of all, there’s got to be, and there will be, and California is just about two weeks away from enacting tough legislation that prevents companies from misclassifying workers as independent contractors when they really are employees


RR: (01:16:10)

And it’s going on all over the country. And we need, ultimately, federal law about that. Secondly, people that are genuinely independent contractors, gig workers, they need to start joining together in associations that give them not quite the power of labor unions, but some power of being a member of a team or a group that can—because they have purchasing power because they have bargaining leverage because they stick together—begin to really have the sense that they, and with employees and suppliers, they can do more united than they can as individuals. Finally, and you struck on something that I worry about a lot, is disempowerment. One of the aspects of disempowerment that’s going on right now is not only gig work but it’s also the internet. A lot of people think that are being politically active because they are clicking on petitions and they are doing things online and that is not political activity. That is nice feeling. But unless you’re actually organizing and working together and meeting one-on-one and building relationships, you are not building political power. And people have got to understand that whether they’re gig workers or they are just nice. Slacktivist—is that the new term?


RR: (01:17:43)

But thank you.

Audience Question 11: (01:17:47)

Okay. Couple of things. I agree with you. We need to take the streets. I have been promoting that for months on end. Hong Kong is out there every weekend for a dozen weeks now and we sit on our asses, pardon my French and do nothing. I need us to find an inspirational leader like Martin Luther King to take to the streets. Does anyone in this room think if we struck for one week that our bosses would not start changing things? Does anyone believe that would not happen? Why cannot we find leaders in Congress to help us take to the streets and solve these problems that we all know need to be solved but are getting nowhere because the people are not getting involved to demand the change. Secondly, social media outrage is going to change nothing. We need to harness that into doing something actually physical and tell Katie Porter, I love her.

PJ: (01:18:48)

Katie’s awesome. Yeah, I mean, look, if you’re going to wait for one leader, you’re going to be waiting a long time. You got to find—


PJ: (01:19:00)

And I say that trying to do whatever I can and whenever I can, Secretary asked me how many times I’ve been arrested. I said three. He said, that’s nothing compared to how many times he’s been arrested. But you know, we have been on the streets, we’ve been organizing, but we need everybody to really take that step of engagement. And it takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of explanation. It takes inspiration and it takes real organization and it takes real training. When we did our civil disobedience action many years ago, my first one. We prepared for months. And if you look at what the civil rights movement did, and I’ve been down with, had the honor of my lifetime to go with John Lewis down to the South. He leads a civil rights pilgrimage every year. And when you see the amount of work that went into the trainings and the community networks that shuttled people during the bus strikes, it was a tremendous amount of organization. It wasn’t just showing up on the streets one day. That happened. But that only came out of a lot of work.

PJ: (01:20:11)

And so I think we need to have a real conversation about what that looks like, training around these nonviolent practices that can be used. And strategic thinking also around that. Katie Porter’s fantastic and we worked very hard at the congressional progressive caucus to try to actually get the agreement to put new members on what we call the A committees. So we got agreement from Pelosi to give us 40% of all of the A committees including financial services. And so when you look at Katie Porter and you look at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and you look at some of these new members that are doing such a phenomenal job on that committee, it’s because we held our power as a progressive caucus, leveraged it in exchange for some victories like this one.


Audience Question 12: (01:21:12)

Arguably, the best way, or the single policy that would affect wages the most is raising the minimum wage. And I have two questions about raising the minimum wage. One, how can we get this into the conversations? Like in the presidential debates, we’re not talking about that as much and the other is a much more difficult one. And that is that fighting for 15 in Seattle makes a lot of sense in some other places, 15 is way too high and seen as too high. There’s a difference in cost of living. How can we encourage at the national level, that raising the minimum wage at the state level and at the city level. That will be appropriate to the differences in the cost of living. But the first question is how do we get minimum wage into the conversation much more often? And so we actually see it happen. I mean, we don’t see that as one of those major things. Maybe it’s buried in things like the Green New Deal, but it’s not, we’re not hearing about it. And that’s the single biggest thing that makes an impact on people’s lives.

PJ: (01:22:22)

Let me just maybe start and say that I think the reason it’s not in the conversations is because we won the public opinion battle on 15 and raising the minimum wage. We passed it with unanimous support from the democratic caucus. Any presidential candidate that says they don’t believe in raising the minimum wage to 15, thanks to the fast food workers that started that fight. I really think part of the reason I would just say Diana, that I actually, and I’m going to ask the Secretary to weigh in on this, but I don’t believe that 15 is too high anywhere in the country.

PJ: (01:23:04)

Maybe that’s not what you were saying, but I think that actually 15 like it goes the other way. You look at certain cities like Seattle and 15 doesn’t really cut it here. So, we had to really fight back the attempts to have regional minimum wages or to have different wages for rural communities than we did. We need one minimum wage. And when you think about how long it’s been since the minimum wage has been increased and how we would be well over $20-$21, if it had kept up with inflation thanks to labor movement in Washington state, we’re one of three States that had minimum wage tied to inflation, goes back to I think 1990. Is that right? Labor folks? ’99? So that’s part of the reason our wage is so high.

RR: (01:23:57)

Just quickly since 1938, we have had a federal minimum wage. States can always raise their state minimum wages higher. And indeed, we always assumed that cities could raise it even higher than states. Until a few states started passing laws that prevented their cities in their states from doing that. But what has happened is that the federal minimum wage that was last raised in 2009 to $7 and 25 cents an hour has not been changed. And inflation has eroded that to the point where it’s now about $6 and 10 cents an hour. It’s ludicrous. And so we do have to have a federal minimum wage. I totally agree with the Congresswoman. It should be at least $15 nationally and then above that, various States and cities can raise that. But let me emphasize something that’s often left out of this conversation. We should not, in this country, have anybody who is working full time and poor. Nobody.


RR: (01:25:23)

Rather than start with the minimum wage. And how high it should be, I think we should start with two propositions: no working poor and no non-working rich.


RR: (01:25:47)

Well anyway, we have (inaudible) Did you say no private property? I’m sorry. We have to end it right? At this point—



RR: (01:25:55)

It has been such a privilege for me to be back. And Congresswoman, thank you for what you are doing. You are blazing a wonderful trail. And I really appreciate it. So do all of you.


PJ: (01:26:17)

Secretary Reich, I wish you were our Secretary of Labor right now.


PJ: (01:26:23)

But I just want to thank you for your incredible years of service working in four different administrations and continuing to share ideas and knowledge and help educate students so many students that are coming out and, and making a difference today. And we are just so grateful that you’ve picked Seattle as your second home to Berkeley, it sounds like, since you’re in Town Hall so much. We invite you to come back. Right, Seattle?

PJ: (01:26:49)

(applause) Come back again. Come back and see us.


Weir Harmon: (01:26:53)

Thank you, everybody. One more time for Pramila Jayapal and Robert Reich.

Hibou: (01:27:00)


JP: (01:27:00)

Thank you for listening to our Town Hall Seattle Civic Series. I’m Jini Palmer. Our theme music comes from the Seattle artist, David Bazan, and Seattle’s own Barsuk Records. A special thanks to our audio engineer, Moe Provencher. Check out our new season of Town Hall Seattle’s original podcast, In the Moment. Each episode, a local Seattle correspondent interviews someone coming to Town Hall, they get you excited about upcoming events by giving you a behind the scenes look into our presenter’s content, personality, and interests. If you like our Civic Series, listen to our Arts and Culture and Science series as well. For more information, check out our calendar of events or to support Town Hall, go to our website at

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