When he was asked by a union member at a recent town hall meeting how he would continue to support the labor movement now that healthcare legislation has become law, President Obama responded by proclaiming his support for unions:
“I’ve said this before publicly and I’ll say it again, I make no apologies for it. I am a pro-union guy. Our unions helped build our middle class. We take for granted so much stuff — minimum wage laws, 40-hour work week, overtime, child labor laws. Those things wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for unions fighting for those rights. So even if you’re not a member of a union, you’ve got to be appreciative of what unions have done.”
The exchange took place at a town hall meeting at the Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, IA on April 27 [full transcript]. Obama was there to speak with citizens about jobs and a range of other economic issues.
The president continued:
“Now, a lot of things that we do don’t get a lot of notice. We don’t always generate headlines. But a lot of things that we’re doing have to do with how is the Department of Labor operating to make sure that workplace safety rules are enforced; to make sure that if the federal government is helping to finance a program, that we’ve got a project labor agreement in place that assures that people are paid a decent wage and they’re getting a fair deal. Who am I appointing to the National Labor Relations Board, so that when a union tries to organize, it doesn’t take five years before you can even get a ruling, and then it turns out that the ruling somehow conveniently always is against the union.
“So there are a lot of things that we’ve been doing administratively to try to make sure that people just get the fair chance to organize…
“One of the things that we stand for as Americans is the freedom to decide I’m going to join with my brothers and sisters at that workplace to try to get a better deal — not through force, not through coercion, but just by us agreeing to bargain. And we just want to make sure that there’s a level playing field in that process. That’s something that I strongly believe in, and it’s part of the American tradition.
“And sometimes people say, well, unions are what’s making us not competitive. Well, that’s just not true. Unions are only, at this point in the private sector, probably less than 10 percent of the economy. So the notion that somehow that’s what is creating competition with other countries that pay lower wages; that’s not the case. The fact of the matter is that what’s going to help us become competitive is if we’ve got middle-class workers making middle-class wages with middle-class benefits, who can then go out and shop, and support a family, and buy a new car and pay their mortgage, which will create more business opportunities and maintain America as the greatest market on Earth. And if we do that, then we’re going to be successful….”
APWU president William Burrus praised Obama’s remarks. “After eight long years of the most radical anti-worker administration in decades, it’s refreshing to have a president who understands why it’s so important for workers to be able to organize,” Burrus said. “Passing healthcare reform was an important step toward creating economic security for millions of working families. We look forward to working with the administration on many other important issues.”