The nation’s top union leaders were at the White House yesterday pushing for a second stimulus package, a strong public option in the health care reform bill, and the Employee Free Choice Act.

A top aide to one of the union presidents who participated told the World, this morning, that they were “very positive about what the president had to say on both the urgency of creating a health care plan with a strong public option and about what he had to say concerning the Employee Free Choice Act. On the second stimulus, there is a way to go yet.”

The union leaders, led by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney and Change to Win Chair Anna Burger, discussed the issues in a 45-minute closed-door meeting with President Obama.

The White House issued a statement late yesterday, calling the meeting “a productive conversation about shared priorities like creating jobs, health care reform and the Employee Free Choice Act.”

An aide to Communications Workers of America President Larry Cohen said, in a phone interview, that while Obama reiterated his backing of the Employee Free Choice Act, he did not give specific promises other than “he would do everything he could” to back the bill and see to it that it does not die as a result of a planned Republican filibuster in the Senate.

Union presidents at the meeting were members of the National Labor Coordinating Committee which was set up April 7 to explore ways to reunite the country’s two labor federations.

“We spoke with a unified voice to the president,” the union leaders said in a joint statement, “as we discussed progress on issues that are so important to working families, including the 16 million working Americans in our unions.”

Health care and the need for a public option was a major part of the discussion with the president.

“We are working hard with Congress and the president to win health care for every American. We support a robust quality public plan option that will lower costs and ensure that Americans without coverage can get it,” the union leaders said.

They also told the president that labor is opposed to imposing taxes on workers who now have coverage through their employers.

“We also believe we can create universal coverage without taxing the benefits of workers. The last thing working people can stand as they struggle with health costs is new taxes on their benefits, especially during these times of economic hardship.”

The statement by the union leaders also addressed the discussions with the White House on the Employee Free Choice Act.

“We talked about the Employee Free Choice Act,” the leaders said, “which will restore the middle class by giving workers the choice to bargain, not borrow, their way to a better life. We look forward to its passage, giving workers a proven path to fairer wages, benefits, and a secure retirement.”

Cohen shared, after the meeting, how he put the issues when he made his remarks at the White House. He said there, “In every other industrial democracy, working people have the full right to voice and a seat at the table. Restoring that right to American workers through the Employee Free Choice Act will help rebuild the middle class and move our economy forward. In the same way, real health care reform that addresses our current flawed system will boost our economy. All unions are united on these critical issues.”

On the question of additional economic stimulus there was not a complete meeting of the minds.

The labor leaders praised the $787 billion economic stimulus law passed early in the Obama administration but made it clear to the president that a second substantial stimulus, in their opinion, is now needed. Obama, who was cool to the idea, told the union presidents that he believes the first stimulus needs more time to work before results can be fully evaluated.

jwojcik @ pww.org

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