AFL-CIO official Tefere Gebre exhorts fellow protesters. Photo: Alicia Cohn/The Foundry

About 30 protesters, chanting “You can’t survive on $7.25” and “Poverty wages have got to go,” marched today in support of a higher minimum wage outside The Heritage Foundation.

AFL-CIO spokesmen at the lunchtime protest said the labor organization targeted Heritage’s Capitol Hill headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue NE because of the think tank’s influence in the debate over hiking the federal minimum wage to as much as $10.10 an hour.

“[Heritage experts] are a big voice for the conservative movement and have been pretty vocal against raising the minimum wage and the cost that it might have on jobs,” spokeswoman Amaya Smith told The Foundry. “We think this is a debate worth taking out into the public arena and letting the American people decide on it.”

Smith said the protest, which lasted less than an hour, was part of a larger effort to gain publicity related to President Obama’s push to raise the minimum wage as well as the Fair Minimum Wage Act being debated in the Senate.

AFL-CIO officials say the American public is on their side, citing a poll finding that 66 percent agree that the minimum wage should be increased. The percentage in support typically falls, however, where a poll indicates that raising the minimum wage also could cause employers to lay off workers–which is Heritage’s argument.

In an email to The Foundry,  Stephen Moore, Heritage’s chief economist, said:

A higher minimum wage usually means that many workers will find their wage drop to $0.00. I wonder how many of the picketers are getting paid the minimum wage?”

According to the AFL-CIO, the protesters didn’t take time off work to rally outside Heritage. The organization recruited participants from affiliate unions, including the boilermakers, bricklayers, teachers, and federal employees.

Protesters passed out flyers advocating raising the minimum wage and held signs accusing Heritage President Jim DeMint of being “afraid to debate” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. The labor group first challenged DeMint to a debate last week.

“He’s head of the organization; we’re offering the head of our organization,” said AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre, one of the marchers today. “Do it without filters, right?”

Heritage’s labor policy expert, James Sherk, said he is willing to debate Trumka.

Sherk, senior policy analyst in labor economics, personally engaged protesters both in front of the think tank’s building and on social media.  Sherk said:

“If you raise the minimum wage to a historically unprecedented level, it would eliminate a half million jobs.  Higher costs mean less hiring. That denies potential workers the opportunity to get started in the workforce, gain experience, and move up.”

The AFL-CIO tweeted that the union appreciated Sherk’s engagement but was “still waiting for [DeMint] to agree to a forum.”

This story was produced by The Foundry’s news team. Nothing here should be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of The Heritage Foundation.

This post has been modified.