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U.S. presidential candidate Booker says he will bolster worker rights, hike taxes on rich

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Democratic presidential candidate Cory Booker on Wednesday said he would increase worker protections, strengthen labor unions and significantly raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans as part of a broad workers' rights plan.

The proposal came amid a strike by the United Auto Workers that has shut down U.S. production at General Motors. Many of the 20 Democrats seeking their party's nomination to take on U.S. President Donald Trump in next year's election have rushed to express solidarity with the union.

In his announcement, Booker noted that his grandfather moved from the South to Detroit and was able to pull his family out of poverty thanks to a job as a UAW line worker and union representative.

"He showed me how, when workers stick together, injustices can be corrected and real progress can be made," Booker, a U.S. senator from New Jersey, said.

Democrats have worked to court labor unions, long a mainstay of the party, after Trump made inroads among blue-collar workers in 2016. Unions have lost some power as their membership has dwindled in recent decades, but they remain a potent force in U.S. politics.

Booker, 50, has lagged in the polls despite positive reviews for his debate performances. A Sept. 9-10 Reuters/Ipsos poll showed him tied for sixth place in the nomination race with 3% support from Democrats and independents.

Booker would close loopholes that allow "gig economy" workers, like rideshare drivers, to be misclassified as contractors; seek to ban "right-to-work" laws that bar unions from requiring members to pay dues; and make it easier for employees to organize.

He also touted his "Worker Dividend Act," a bill in the Senate that would require companies that initiate stock buybacks to pay out a similar sum to their workers.

The proposal includes workplace protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees, benefits for domestic and farm workers, national paid family leave and a $15 minimum wage.

Like other Democrats, Booker has vowed to repeal the Republican tax cuts that disproportionately benefited wealthy Americans and corporations and to close loopholes, like the "carried interest" provision that allows hedge fund managers and private equity executives to pay lower tax rates.

He also said he would reform the tax treatment of capital gains to force rich Americans to pay taxes annually on their investments, rather than only when those profits are actually realized. Together with other reforms, his campaign estimated the move could bring in $2 trillion over a decade. (Reporting by Joseph Ax Editing by Alistair Bell)