Congressional candidate Ro Khanna rolled out his jobs plan Monday, including teaching computer coding in public schools, boosting the number of women in tech careers, preparing more young workers for manufacturing jobs and boosting the minimum wage higher than even the president wants.
Khanna described the plan in a speech to about 100 employees at Access Closure, a Santa Clara medical-device manufacturer. The company employs about 345 workers nationwide including about 210 in the Bay Area; jobs on the manufacturing floor, which require only a high-school diploma or equivalent, start at about $40,000 per year.
“I can’t think of a better place to do this,” Khanna said, noting the company is a U.S.-based manufacturer that’s exporting some of its product and expanding while paying its workers a living wage.
But duplicating the success of a company like this requires leadership and action from Washington, said Khanna, a Democratic challenger to Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, in the 17th Congressional District.
Honda lacks a comprehensive jobs plan, Khanna charged. “There’s been an absence of leadership on his part … and beyond that an absence of willingness to have a conversation,” he said, noting Honda’s refusal thus far to promise a debate before the June primary.
Read about Khanna’s seven-point plan, after the jump:
1.) Include computer coding in the public school curriculum – Khanna said this is a means to “ensure that every young person has the skills to compete in the 21st-century economy. Younger students should be taught basic skills like logic, and older students should learn programming languages.
2.) Invest in and credential science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) teachers – Khanna called for raising the standards for credentialing; offering teachers ongoing professional development opportunities including shadowing engineers at local companies or taking community-college classes; and awarding Education Department grants to districts and states that create cost-effective training programs for STEM teachers.
3.) Increase the number of women in science and tech careers – Only one in seven engineers is a woman, Khanna said. Boosting that number means getting girls interested in STEM careers early, as well as offering an incentivized work environment including child care and paid maternity leave.
4.) Preparing more young people for advanced manufacturing jobs – Khanna said he would push legislation to fund Department of Commerce grants for community colleges that offer more practical job training and demonstrate successful job placement.
5.) Connect small businesses with capital and access to the export market – Access Closure executives said only 3 to 5 percent of their product is exported, and Khanna said only 38 companies in the 17th District export their products overseas; Khanna vowed to double that number. He also said he would use his congressional website to create an “exchange” where entrepreneurs and small businesses can connect with investors.
6.) Provide job training and tax credits to support dislocated workers – Khanna said the closure of Fremont’s New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant underscored the need for job retraining, even for workers whose hours have been reduced but not yet eliminated. Also, he said, companies willing to hire dislocated workers – especially veterans – should get targeted tax credits.
7.) Raise the minimum wage – Khanna called for raising the federal minimum wage to $10.74 – the level at which it would be if it had kept up with inflation for the past 40 years – and then indexing it to inflation thereafter. House Democrats and President Obama are now pushing a bill to increase it to $10.10 and then index it to inflation.
These are “commonsense ideas that I believe can get bipartisan support in Congress,” he said. “There is nothing this country cannot do if our politics were just a little bit better. … We need change, we need a new vision.”
Afterward, Khanna agreed the minimum-wage hike is currently in limbo under staunch opposition by Republicans, but he said that might not be the case if it was “part of a much broader conversation about American competitiveness.” Republicans might bend on the minimum wage if Democrats meet them halfway on other issues, he said.
UPDATE @ 10:28 A.M. TUESDAY: In an email sent a few minutes ago, Honda campaign spokesman Vivek Kembaiyan said Khanna is a latecomer to jobs and education issues that Honda has been championing for years.
“As a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, Congressman Honda has a proven record supporting job creation in Silicon Valley,” he said. “The BART extension to San Jose alone, which Congressman Honda helped secure $900 million in funding for, is creating over 10,000 jobs locally. He has passed legislation that led to $4 billion of investment in nanotechnology research & development, as well as a law that has expanded STEM education. He is leading Congressional efforts to create manufacturing jobs and raise the minimum wage as well.”
“On creating jobs, like so many other issues, Ro Khanna has a lot to say, but Mike Honda has actually delivered results for Silicon Valley,” Kembaiyan said.
UPDATE @ 3 P.M. TUESDAY: Click here to read more about Khanna’s and Honda’s argument over Honda’s record on jobs and education.