Washington (PAI) – Union leaders reacted positively to Democratic President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, but they threw in some dissenting notes.
For example, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the address extremely effective and praised its emphasis on jobs – and then said Obama omitted the best way to create well-paying jobs: Strengthening collective bargaining rights.
And Thea Lee, the fed’s deputy chief of staff and longtime top economist, slammed Obama for his address’ advocacy of “fast-track” trade authority. Fast track lets Obama push trade treaties through Congress with only up-or-down votes, no amendments, little debate and no worker rights.
In his speech, Obama asked Congress to help workers and the middle class, but also said he would take executive action to do so, where he could, if Congress refuses. That drew high praise from Steelworkers President Leo Gerard.
“His speech laid a roadmap for results and made clear that he will not wait for Republicans to stop protecting the top 1 percent while everyone else suffers,” Gerard said.
One example of not waiting, Obama told lawmakers, is a forthcoming executive order telling future federal contractors – who hire workers for fast food courts and as janitors in federal facilities and to fix runways on military bases or to help clean up in VA hospitals – that they must pay at least $10.10 an hour to get those pacts.
He then used that as a jumping-off point to urge lawmakers to pass legislation raising the minimum wage nationwide, from its present $7.25 hourly, to $10.10, by 2016, and index it to inflation thereafter. The GOP-run House defeated that last year.
Excerpts of several union leaders’ reaction to the speech:
• Trumka, in one of a series of tweets: “Best SOTU to date for Barack Obama. All the right points to lift up middle class but one: Collective bargaining.”
• Steelworkers’ Gerard: “President Obama made it clear that promoting economic growth and making sure that everyone shares in it is his top priority.
“The president turned the nation’s economy in the right direction with no help from the Republicans,” Gerard said. “The economic and financial collapse brought on by the excesses of the Bush administration has taken years to reverse. During his time, the president helped create a new framework for financial regulation and put health insurance within everyone’s reach. The seeds of recovery have been sown, but much work remains.”
• Laborers President Terry O’Sullivan said lawmakers should heed the president’s request to approve a long-term highway-mass transit construction law.
“It's time for Congress to move forward before our nation's Highway Trust Fund runs out of gas,” O’Sullivan said. “Passing a new long-term bill, for at least six years, could save hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars.
“Adjusting user fees for inflation, along with new bipartisan proposals for infrastructure banks and loan guarantees to develop more public-private partnerships, will help reduce a deficit that is expected to reach $15 billion this year alone.
“These new investments in rebuilding America's roads and bridges will create family-supporting jobs that help more working families earn their way into the middle class,” O’Sullivan said.
• Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry lauded Obama’s attack on rising income inequality, his wage hike for the contract workers and his advocacy for the minimum wage increase.
“We need to end the new 'normal' of workers stringing together low-wage jobs with no benefits that can't support a family,” Henry said As President Obama said, 'the best measure of opportunity is access to a good job,” she said.
That job must include stronger workers’ rights, she added.