Democrat Buttigieg unveils plan to raise pay, expand worker protections

(Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg unveiled a plan on Friday to raise wages and strengthen the rights of American workers, including “gig economy” workers such as Uber drivers, and fast-food employees.

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Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, proposed strengthening bargaining rights for American workers, including subcontractors, forcing companies to pay men and women the same wage for the same job, and awarding government contracts to businesses who offer good pay and benefits.

Buttigieg, 37, also vowed if president to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, a proposal backed by most of his 24 rivals vying to become the candidate to take on Republican President Donald Trump in next November’s election.

Buttigieg was due to unveil his plan at a forum in Iowa, his ninth visit to the state this year and where the Democrats’ nominating contest kicks off in February. Various elements of his plan have already been proposed by some of his Democratic rivals.

He has been rising in the polls in recent weeks and raised $24.8 million between April and June this year, more than any other of his White House rivals. Next week Buttigieg participates in the second round of nationally televised Democratic presidential debates.

“Our economy is changing, and too many Americans are working full time, some working two or even three jobs, and still finding it impossible to make ends meet,” Buttigieg said in a statement before his Iowa appearance.

“Let’s make sure that in this coming era, the tide continues to rise - and truly lifts all boats,” he said of his plan, entitled “A New Rising Tide: Empowering Workers in a Changing Economy.”

In his proposal, Buttigieg noted that membership of public and private unions has dropped dramatically in recent years, and accused companies of pressurizing workers into not forming unions at all, reducing their bargaining power.

He also called out some fast-food companies and ride-hailing firms Lyft Inc and Uber Technologies Inc, where many drivers lack worker protections and benefits because they are classified as independent contractors.

Under the plan, American workers, including gig economy workers, fast-food workers and subcontractors would be guaranteed bargaining rights. Buttigieg said he would ensure employers cannot interfere with union elections, fine companies if they did, and enforce gender pay transparency, fight workplace harassment and discrimination against women, and ensure sick leave and paid family leave.

Reporting by Tim Reid in Los Angeles; Editing by Lisa Shumaker