COLLEGE PARK, Ga. — Democratic nominee Robbin Shipp told a forum Monday night if she becomes labor commissioner she’ll push for a higher minimum wage and stronger unions, the first candidate for the post in recent memory to take a stance so at odds with employers. Her opponent, Republican incumbent Mark Butler, and other GOP operatives lobbed criticism the following day, warning that such a policy would stall Georgia’s recovery.

Raising the state’s minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to above the federal minimum of $7.25 and up to as much as $15 is the centerpiece of her economic-development platform because she said putting money into consumers’ hands would also benefit the business they patronize. “It’s a fundamental principle of economics that the more money individuals — particularly in the middle class — have in their pockets, the more they then go out and spend. It is that spending which creates jobs,” she told the audience of a candidates forum organized by the League of Women Voters.

She said she would use the post as commissioner to lobby for the wage hike as well as for union-friendly laws. “When you have unions, you have higher wages,” Shipp said. Butler had a conflict and missed the forum, but he said Tuesday that her position would discourage overseas companies from bringing jobs to the state. “If you want to kill some foreign investment, kill right to work,” he said. Georgia is considered a “right to work” state because the law here prohibits union membership as a condition of employment.

Butler said states with such union-shop laws are repealing them to halt the exodus of employers heading for places like Georgia. ┬áMost candidates for labor commissioner in recent years have promised to work with employers and haven’t taken a stance sod irectly in conflict with business organizations. Republican campaign consultants say Shipp’s platform could become a vulnerability for the whole slate of statewide Democratic candidates in a state as conservative as Georgia. “I believe her stance is just the tip of the iceberg of the kind of irresponsible and radical liberal agenda that (gubernatorial nominee) Jason Carter and (U.S. Senate nominee) Michelle Nunn will implement if given a chance to run our state. Icebergs like that can sink our state’s economy,” said Joel McElhanon, a veteran of multiple legislative and congressional races.

Todd Rehm, another consultant frequently quoted by national media, described Shipp’s view as extreme. “Ending Georgia’s status as a right-to-work state would be a radical reshaping of the business environment for small businesses and would harm Georgia workers by forcing many small employers out of business,” he said, adding that Shipp’s candidacy reflects the Democrats’ concession to organized labor in exchange for volunteers who will work for the party’s Senate candidate.
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