President Obama: Labor is 'part of the solution'

Friday, was the second of two big days for labor at the Obama White House, as the new president continued the process of reversing Republican measures. On Thursday the administration signed a new law insuring equal pay and giving workers more time to file suits.

The new executive orders, signed at a White House ceremony where Obama was joined by the nation’s top union leaders, insures that federal contractors offer jobs to current workers when contracts change and prevents them from posting notices that workers can limit money going to unions as their bargaining agents. In addition, President Obama yesterday prevented federal contractors from being reimbursed for expenses in anti-union organizing drives.

President Obama said, 'I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem. To me, it's part of the solution.'

The White House also set up a White House Task Force on Middle Class Working Families headed by Vice President Biden to focus on issues essential to ordinary families. The task force will have its first meeting in Philadelphia in late February and will travel to different cities around the country.

AFL-CIO President Sweeny in a statement stressed the critical role of the new task force:

The Task Force on Middle Class Working Families and the executive orders are the first step in a long road to restore balance between workers and corporations. As the weeks and months continue, we thank God that we have a president, vice president, and Congress who are determined to fix our economy so that it works for everyone.

Biden, in an article in USA Today stressed that workers have to get a bigger share of what they produce as a condition of economic recovery: “Once this economy starts growing again, we need to make sure the benefits of that growth reach the people responsible for it. We can’t stand by and watch as that narrow sliver of the top of the income scale wins a bigger piece of the pie—while everyone else gets a smaller and smaller slice.”

Later in the day, Biden indicated that the Employee Free Choice Act is still very much part of the Obama administration’s agenda. As reported by Marc Ambinder of TheAlantic.com, Biden when questioned by CBS reporter John Harwood, said the new law would be pursued “prudently” this year. “We're going to try to push for prudently. By that I mean there's only so much on the plate these first couple months.” The vice president went on say while both he and Obama thought 10 months ago, EFCA would come up immediately, they now saw the need to build a bigger coalition for its passage.

When pressed by Harwood that passage might be delayed to 2010, Biden stated strongly that it would be passed in 2009, “No, no, no, no. This year. This year, we hope.”

Meanwhile United Steel Worker President Leo Gerard is pressing that the recovery package insure that steel used in the US be produced domestically, calling for a new “economic patriotism.” “It's time for economic patriots to stand up in our country. We need to ensure that our laws are aggressively implemented to ensure that American taxpayer dollars are used to put Americans back to work and help renew our economy,” he said.

The US Chamber of Commerce has announced opposition to buying domestic steel, calling it protectionism.