Washington (PAI)—Union leaders applauded Democratic President Barack Obama’s emphasis on creating more jobs and aiding the middle class in the chief executive’s Feb. 12 State of the Union address.
But they offered some criticisms of specifics, faulting Obama for not including the right to organize, for not calling out the GOP on its hard-line opposition to unions, and for not including tipped workers in his call for a minimum wage hike.
Obama spent more than three-fourths of his hour-long speech on jobs related issues. His key points included encouraging more U.S. manufacturing – such as creation of more manufacturing innovation centers to join one in Ohio – a raise in the minimum wage to $9 an hour and indexing it to inflation, and adding 70,000 jobs “right now” as part of a $50 billion infrastructure construction program.
Obama also repeated his demand for strong and comprehensive immigration reform, including a road to eventual citizenship for the 11 million undocumented workers in the U.S. Legalizing them would bring them under labor law protection.
That would let the workers organize and – legally, at least – bar employer exploitation of them and employer leverage of their existence to drive down wages and benefits of all workers. It’s one reason unions are campaigning hard for immigration reform.
In response to the President’s remarks, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., the Tea Party responder to Obama, slammed labor even before slamming Obama: Paul reintroduced his national so-called “Right to Work” law. And House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, rejected the minimum wage hike.
ECONOMY FOR ALL
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka pledged that unionists “will fight by his (Obama’s) side to build an economy that works for all.
“Obama rightly put rising wages and good jobs as his top priority, and we fully support him,” Trumka continued. That includes immigration reform, the minimum wage hike, ensuring the right to vote, campaigning for early childhood education, and emphasizing manufacturing and infrastructure.
Trumka added two critical comments. One called on Obama to publicly campaign for legislation strengthening the right to organize. The other blamed both Obama and Congress for “the destructive obstructionism and wrong-headed austerity that weaken our economic recovery.
“Today’s economic challenges result directly from decades of inadequate job growth, wage stagnation and growing inequality. If there is one tool workers need to succeed, it is the right to organize and bargain collectively. But in the end, the President’s words are meaningless if they do not produce action – and it is our responsibility to fight for the president’s vision and the policies outlined tonight,” he said.
PUSHES RIGHT TO ORGANIZE
UFCW President Joe Hansen also said Obama should push the right to organize and bargain, too.
“For the last couple of years, corporations and their cronies in government have constantly attacked unions and the freedom to collectively bargain. It would be welcome for Obama to outline his second-term vision for a strong economy by condemning the “right to work” campaign that is threatening the middle class.
Steelworkers President Leo Gerard applauded Obama’s emphasis on increasing manufacturing and raising the minimum wage.
Obama’s “network of 15 high-tech innovation hubs will help ensure the United States is prepared to lead the next industrial revolution,” Gerard explained. “His ideas to revitalize our crumbling infrastructure not only will bring our education, energy, transportation and communications systems into the 21st century, but also will grow the middle class with tens of thousands of solid, family-supporting jobs, the kinds of jobs that Americans need and deserve.
Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan, like other construction union leaders, praised Obama’s remarks on renewing U.S. infrastructure.
“Taking care of the basics of America is a core function and responsibility of the federal government. America’s infrastructure – our roads, bridges and highways and water systems - are in a state of crisis.
“Across the U.S., 26% of all bridges – are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. A third of major roads are in mediocre or poor condition and 36% of major urban highways are stretched beyond capacity. Each day, seven billion gallons of clean drinking water is lost to leaking pipes. The scope of our needs is beyond the capacity of cities, counties, even states or private investment to address and the economic impacts could be devastating.”