- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 7, 2015

President Obama on Wednesday called on U.S. business, labor and political leaders to “refashion the social compact” and strengthen union powers across the country, arguing that the troubling trend of declining middle-class wages can be turned around by redefining the basic principles of workers’ rights.

During a speech at a White House summit on working Americans, the president drew a direct link between drops in union membership and the stagnation of most workers’ wages. Mr. Obama also said that workers’ anxiety about their job security and whether they’ll be afford to feed their families contributes to “anti-immigration sentiment” and other negative emotions exemplified by some in the Republican party.

The president called on all stakeholders to design a new social compact centered on worker protections, higher wages, mandatory sick and family leave, workplace safety and more power for labor unions.

“If we don’t refashion the social compact so that workers are able to be rewarded properly for the labor that they put in … then we’re going to have problems. It’s not just going to be a problem for our politics, creating resentment and anxiety. It’s going to be a problem for our economy,” Mr. Obama said.

“The bottom line is that as union membership has fallen, inequality has risen. Union membership is as low today as it’s been in 80 years, since the 30s. I believe that when folks attack unions they’re attacking the middle-class, they’re attacking cops, firefighters, nurses, public servants, auto workers, plumbers, Americans who keep our streets safe … and so, in today’s economy, we should be making it easier, not harder, for folks to join a union. We should be strengthening our labor laws, not rolling them back,” he said.

The president didn’t specifically mention any 2016 Republican presidential candidates but seemed to suggest some of those White House hopefuls are tapping into workers’ fears about their future for personal political gain.

“The fear, the apprehension, that can express itself in all kinds of ways — anti-immigration sentiment, resentment toward people who don’t look exactly like you do, some of the anger that can express itself in not-very-productive economic policies — a lot of that is fed just by people feeling anxious about their futures and feeling alone and feeling like they’ve got no control and nobody is listening,” Mr. Obama said.

• Ben Wolfgang can be reached at bwolfgang@washingtontimes.com.

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