By: SAM HANANEL (AP)
 

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s plan to raise the minimum wage for federally contracted workers is winning praise from unions and labor activists, but it could take a year or more before any hikes take place and the impact may not be as widespread as some advocates had hoped.

Obama announced in his State of the Union address Tuesday that he will sign an executive order setting the minimum wage for workers covered by new federal contracts at $10.10 an hour, a hefty increase over the current federal minimum of $7.25.

“I think it’s a huge step forward in that every action headed in the direction of lifting wages puts pressure on Congress to act,” said Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union, which has spent millions to help federally contracted workers and fast-food employees organize protests and strikes to demand higher wages.

But the increase is only expected to cover about 10 percent of the 2.2 million federal contract workers overall, since most of those employees already make more than $10.10. It won’t take effect until 2015 at the earliest and doesn’t affect existing federal contracts, only new ones.

Another wrinkle: The order won’t affect contract renewals unless other terms of the agreement change, such as the type of work or number of employees needed, according to White House officials.

That caveat is raising concerns for Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., who has spent months urging Obama to increase wages for contractors. While Ellison called the announcement “a great first step,” he said he wants to make sure it’s implemented the right way.

“If you renew a contract, we expect everyone to make $10.10,” Ellison said.

Ellison said White House officials have estimated that about 200,000 low-wage workers would be affected by the order, including food service workers in federal buildings, security guards, cleaners and groundskeepers.

The White House has not said whether the wage increase will be indexed to go up as inflation rises, but that is also something Ellison would like to see once the executive order is drafted.

Obama hopes his order will pressure Congress “to get on board” and pass legislation increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 for all employees.

The move is sure to add to the growing debate about whether workers in low-wage industries like retail and fast-food should be paid more. And it is winning wide praise from Democratic lawmakers who want to pass a wage increase this year.

Obama’s announcement was a victory for labor unions who have stepped up public pressure on Obama to help raise wages. Government contract workers — with the backing of unions and other worker advocacy groups — have held protests seven times since last May to protest low pay for those working at landmark government buildings, including the Pentagon, the Smithsonian museums and Union Station. Those protesters have specifically called on Obama to raise their wages through an executive order.

Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, said raising the minimum wage would place a new burden on employers and hinder job creation.

“It’s simple math — if the cost of hiring goes up, hiring goes down,” Shay said.

Over at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, senior vice president Randy Johnson said the order appears to be very limited, but he’s waiting to see the fine print. Johnson also questioned whether Obama has legal authority to issue an order that conflicts with current federal minimum wage legislation passed by Congress.

A recent survey by the National Employment Law Project found that 77 percent of government contract employees who work in food service, retail or janitorial service earn less than $10 per hour. About 4 in 10 of those workers depend on public assistance programs such as food stamps and Medicaid, the study by the worker advocacy group found.

The latest Associated Press-GfK poll found that 55 percent of Americans back an increase in the minimum wage, while 21 percent oppose it and 23 percent are neutral. Most, 52 percent, say an increase in the minimum wage would do more to help than hurt the economy, while 27 percent feel it would do more harm than good. One in 5 thinks it wouldn’t have much impact on the economy.

Among Democrats, 77 percent favor an increase and 10 percent oppose it. Among Republicans, only 32 percent support an increase, 39 percent are opposed and 29 percent are neutral. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project, said Obama’s order could have a ripple effect on private employers in some industries and may help other workers who already earn slightly more than $10.10 get a wage boost as well. That has happened in past years when Congress raised the minimum wage, she said.

“Any concrete step that moves in the direction of raising wages for any workers contributes positively to the debate,” Owens said.

Unions representing federal workers applauded Obama’s announcement but complained that the president should also be supporting legislation to increase wages for the government’s own employees who earn less than $10.10 an hour.

“If the president is to have any credibility in talking about living wages, he needs to get his own house in order first and do everything in his power to establish $10.10 as the minimum wage for all federal hourly workers,” said J. David Cox, president of the American Federation of Government Employees.

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Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

Follow Sam Hananel on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SamHananelAP

 

AP-GfK poll: Voters more confident in Trump’s health
WASHINGTON (AP) — The “stamina,” the “look”: A new poll suggests voters are buying in to Donald Trump’s insinuations about Hillary Clinton’s health. They’re ignoring the medical reports.

Voters — especially men — have more confidence that Trump is healthy enough for the presidency than Clinton, according to the Associated Press-GfK poll.

It’s a disconnect considering Clinton has released more medical information than Trump, and that outside doctors who’ve looked at the available data say both candidates seem fine. But it shows the political points Trump scored after the Democratic nominee’s much-publicized mild case of pneumonia.

 Another gender divide: Nearly half of women but just 4 in 10 men think Clinton’s health is getting too much attention, found the poll, which was taken before the presidential candidates’ debate on Monday.

“Everybody gets sick,” said Sherri Smart, 56, of New York. She said she hasn’t decided who to vote for but wishes the candidates would discuss issues instead of sniping about who’s most vigorous.

“What’s important is, what are you going to do for me?” Smart said.

The AP-GfK poll found 51 percent of voters are very or extremely confident that Trump is healthy enough to be president. In contrast, just over a third of voters — 36 percent — had the same confidence in Clinton’s health.

Men are more likely to question Clinton’s physical fitness for the job, with 45 percent saying they’re only slightly or not at all confident compared to 34 percent of women. Men and women are about equally likely to express confidence in Trump’s health. More Democrats are confident of Trump’s health than Republicans are of Clinton’s.

Health is a legitimate issue as the nation is poised to elect one of its oldest presidents. Trump, 70, for months held off disclosing much about his own fitness while stoking questions about a woman in the White House with his assertion, repeated on national TV Monday, that Clinton lacks the look and stamina for the job. (As for his apparent sniffles during Monday’s debate, he blamed a bad microphone.)

“Stamina is a code word for maybe not physically up to the job,” said New York University bioethicist Arthur Caplan, who has called for an independent panel to certify the health of presidential candidates. “There’s something of a bias about men versus women that subtly Trump has played to, that men are more fit, tough enough to do the job.”

Clinton, 68, last year released more detail about her own health history only to buy trouble earlier this month by refusing to take a sick day until a public stumble forced her to reveal the pneumonia diagnosis. But Monday she rebutted Trump’s talk of stamina by wondering if he could match her grueling schedule as a secretary of state — traveling to 112 countries, negotiating peace deals, spending 11 hours testifying before a congressional committee.

What exactly do we know about their health? Neither has released their actual medical records, just a summary from their personal physicians with no way to know if anything important was left out.

Yet another disconnect: The AP-GfK poll found nearly 4 in 10 voters don’t consider such a release important, and another 2 in 10 say it’s only moderately important.

Trump’s gastroenterologist in December released a four-paragraph letter saying the GOP nominee would be “the healthiest individual ever elected.” Earlier this month, Trump took to “The Dr. Oz Show” to say he felt great, while releasing a bit more detail, such as his cholesterol levels and cancer screenings.

Bottom line: Trump takes a cholesterol-lowering statin medication and a baby aspirin, has some mild plaque in his arteries and is overweight — but was declared generally in good health.

Last summer, Clinton’s internist released a two-page letter detailing her family history, prior exams including lab test results, and some prior ailments that have healed — including a 2012 concussion and blood clot Clinton suffered after becoming dehydrated from a stomach virus and fainting. This month, a second letter outlined the mild pneumonia and revealed some updated check-up results.

Bottom line: Clinton takes a blood thinner as a precaution given a history of blood clots, as well as a thyroid medication and allergy relievers — but also was declared generally in good health.

Some doctors say just watching how the candidates handle a physically demanding campaign trail and the cognitive finesse needed to debate can give voters a good idea of health.

But while the public may not pay attention to cholesterol tests and EKGs, it was hard to miss that image of Clinton stumbling.

“The public is feeding off the impressions they’ve received, but that’s not borne out by the letters of health,” said Dr. Howard Selinger, chair of family medicine at Quinnipiac University.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,694 adults, including 1,476 registered voters, was conducted online Sept. 15-19, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, and for registered voters is plus or minus 2.7 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t have access to the internet were provided access for free.

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Online:

Poll results: http://ap-gfkpoll.com


AP-GfK poll shows voter distaste for Putin-style leadership
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump has called Russian President Vladimir Putin “a leader — unlike what we have in this country.”

But most Americans don’t agree with Trump’s assessment of Putin’s leadership skills, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows.

Only 24 percent of registered voters say Putin has leadership qualities that would be good for an American president to share, while 71 percent say he does not. In fact, a majority, 56 percent, said they have an unfavorable view of Putin, while only 10 percent said they view the Russian leader favorably.

 Voters were split on whether Trump would be too close to Putin, with 42 percent saying they think Trump would be too close, and 41 percent saying his approach would be about right. Fourteen percent think he would not be close enough.
By comparison, most voters (53 percent) think Democrat Hillary Clinton’s relationship with Putin would be about right, while 11 percent think she would be too close and 32 percent think she would not be close enough.

The relationship between the Republican nominee and the Russian strongman began taking on new life when Putin praised Trump last December as “bright and talented” and “the absolute leader of the presidential race.”

The billionaire businessman hailed Putin’s regard for him as a “great honor,” brushing off widespread allegations that the Russian president has ordered the killing of political dissidents and journalists.

“Our country does plenty of killing also,” Trump told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in December.

Four in 10 Trump supporters and only 1 in 10 Hillary Clinton supporters say Putin has leadership qualities that would be good for an American president to have. Still, even among Trump’s supporters, just 16 percent have a favorable opinion of Putin. Only 5 percent of Clinton’s supporters do.

Marissa Garth, a 28-year-old stay-at-home mom from Smithfield, Utah, said she plans to vote for Trump this November because he exhibits the qualities of a strong leader — not to be compared with Putin.

“I think (Putin) is a strong leader for his country,” she said. “But at the same time I don’t think he necessarily has the qualities that I would want as a president.”

In fact, the poll finds that men are more likely than women to say that Putin has leadership qualities that would be good in an American president, 28 percent to 19 percent.

Among Clinton’s supporters, 69 percent say Trump would be too close to Putin. Forty-nine percent of those supporting another candidate share that view, but only 8 percent of Trump supporters say their candidate would be too close to Putin. Eighty percent of Trump supporters say his approach would be about right. Among conservatives, 20 percent say Trump would be too close to Putin.

There is nothing 54-year old Gary Sellers, of Homewood, Illinois, likes about Putin — or Trump. He called Putin a “dictator,” adding, “there are no qualities of his that I wish that an American president would have.”

A lukewarm Clinton supporter, he’s concerned that Trump shares Putin’s extreme views of governing. “I feel he has a dictatorial approach toward being president of the United States,” Sellers said of Trump.

Forty-seven percent of voters say they approve and 52 percent disapprove of President Barack Obama’s handling of the U.S. relationship with Russia.

Voters are divided over whether the next president should take a tougher approach to Putin (42 percent) or whether the current approach is about right (39 percent). Just 16 percent think the next president should take a friendlier approach.

Just under half of voters (48 percent) say the U.S. relationship with Russia is a very or extremely important issue, ranking it low on Americans’ list of priorities, far below issues like the economy (92 percent), the threat posed by the Islamic State group (70 percent), the U.S. role in world affairs more generally (68 percent) and immigration (60 percent).

There’s a generational divide over Russia. Two-thirds of voters age 65 and over and more than half of those between 50 and 64 call the U.S. relationship with Russia very or extremely important, while only 4 in 10 30-49 year olds and only a third of those under 30 say the same.

Generally speaking, voters are more likely to say they trust Clinton than Trump on negotiating with Russia, 40 percent to 33 percent. Nineteen percent say they trust neither and 7 percent trust both equally.

John Eppenger, 68, a retiree in Fairfield, Ala., said that when it comes to dealing with Russia, Clinton would “do a much better job than Trump. She’s not perfect, she’s not ideal, but she’s better.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,694 adults, including 1,476 registered voters, was conducted online Sept. 15-19, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points, and for registered voters is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t have access to the internet were provided access for free.

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Online:

Poll results: http://ap-gfkpoll.com