After riling unions on everything from Obamacare to the Keystone XL oil pipeline to a stagnated economy, a passionate President Obama on Monday sought to rally organized labor and energize the key Democratic constituency ahead of the November congressional elections.
Speaking at Milwaukee's Laborfest 2014, the president said unions have played a critical role in helping pass basic workplace protections and implement entitlement programs, and continue to play a vital part in the fight for a higher minimum wage, fair pay for women and other Democratic policy planks.
The president's speech, in which he sought to shore up his administration's standing with the powerful labor movement after a series of high-profile clashes, comes at a time when unions are under unprecedented fire in Wisconsin and elsewhere.
Mr. Obama traveled to Milwaukee just a month after the Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld highly controversial legislation stripping public-employee unions of some of their collective bargaining rights — an effort led by the state's governor, Scott Walker, and one that nearly cost the Republican his job in a union-driven recall election two years ago.
The president directly attacked Mr. Walker's initiative and other Republican attempts to weaken union power and said the GOP must be defeated if the shared goals of the administration and the labor movement are to be realized.
"After all unions have done to build and protect working Americans, I know it's frustrating when people have the gall to blame you for the problems facing working Americans. I know you've got some experience with that around here," Mr. Obama told a raucous crowd. "But you know what? If I were looking for a good job that lets me build some security for my family, I'd join a union. If I were busting my butt in the service industry and wanted an honest day's pay for an honest day's work, I'd join a union ... And if I care about these things, I'd also want more Democrats looking out for me. I'm just saying."
But while the Obama White House has been a staunch supporter of labor in its battle with Mr. Walker and in other tussles with Republican leaders across the country, some powerful unions still find themselves on opposite sides of the administration on a variety of key issues.
Most recently, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka took aim at Mr. Obama's economic team, charging that not enough progress has been made on behalf of the working class and pledging that the labor federation won't endorse any future Democratic presidential candidate who keeps the same economic personnel.
"If you get the same economic team, you're going to get the same results. The same results aren't good enough for working people," Mr. Trumka said last week at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "For most folks, it seems to be an economy of stagnation."
The AFL-CIO and other unions also continue to push the president to finally approve the Keystone pipeline, which remains in limbo despite the administration's own data showing it will create more than 40,000 jobs and won't harm the environment.
On education, the politically potent National Education Association has called for the resignation of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, with union leaders citing the secretary's support for some high-stakes testing as a key reason.
Even on Obamacare, the president's signature domestic achievement, some labor groups have been among the toughest critics.
Unite Here, a 265,000-member union representing restaurant, casino and food-industry workers has blasted the health care reform law and said it will result in fewer hours on the job for its members, higher premiums and other harmful side effects.
Republicans have pounced on those and other issues in pushing their own narrative — that the GOP, not the Democrats, have better ideas when it comes to job creation, economic growth and shared prosperity.
"Right now, there are millions of Americans who desperately want to work but can't find a job. They're exhausted from looking for jobs that don't exist. So it's disappointing that [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid and President Obama continue to reject bipartisan jobs bills passed by the Republican-led House of Representatives — including legislation to build the Keystone Pipeline," said Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus and Co-chairman Sharon Day in a Labor Day statement.
Republicans argue that the Democratic Party, and Mr. Reid and Mr. Obama in particular, are to blame for slow economic growth and a lack of new jobs because they haven't embraced GOP-sponsored jobs bills in the House.
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