Union leaders to Obama aide: ‘This is a defining moment’

WASHINGTON - AFL-CIO leaders have told a top aide to Democratic President Barack Obama that the current fight in states over workers' rights is "a defining moment" Obama must use to discuss the future of the country and of workers.

Fire Fighters President Harold Schaitberger delivered that message to Obama senior advisor David Plouffe during a March 1 "working lunch" at the AFL-CIO Executive Council meeting in Washington.

Over sandwiches, potato chips, soda and coffee, toted into the council's meeting room, the union leaders told Plouffe that insistent demands by Govs. Scott Walker, R-Wis., and John Kasich, R-Ohio, to eliminate collective bargaining for state and local workers are similar to Ronald Reagan's firing of the Air Traffic Controllers 30 years ago.

But while Reagan used PATCO's strike - over unsafe conditions - as "a signal that union-busting was fine," Obama "stepped up to the plate with the governors" for union workers, Schaitberger said.

The council told Plouffe to thank Obama for that support, voiced publicly before the governors - minus Walker - and to urge him to continue it. Plouffe promised he would take that message back to the Oval Office.

"I don't think it does anybody any good when public employees are derogated or vilified and their rights infringed upon," Obama declared on Feb. 28. "We need to attract the best and the brightest to public service."  It was Obama's second highly publicized pro-worker, pro-union statement since the struggle with Walker began.

The council told Plouffe public workers are willing to share in sacrifices to help balance state and local budgets, but that Obama's aid would be especially important "since the president has the largest and loudest megaphone," Schaitberger said.

"We told him Reagan changed the direction of the labor movement, and of the country, with the PATCO strike. It was a defining moment and the labor movement blinked," the Fire Fighters chief added.

"Now we have another defining moment - and we can take hold of it or slide into the abyss," he warned. Meanwhile, Obama can help "frame and change what's going forward in the country," if he speaks up, Schaitberger said.

Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


  • The "compromise" legislation moving thru the legislature would cripple labor's ability to organize by changing electoral rules in union representation elections. It would make labor win, not only a majority of those voting, but a majority of all in a given unit, whether they vote or not.

    SB 5, the anti-union legislation in Ohio, actually forbids workers from contacting any legislator during a strike.

    We must ask President Obama to (1) veto any anti-labor legislation that makes it to his desk & (2) to speak out strongly, making it clear that he stands with embattled working people in the target states of Wisconsin, Ohio & Indiana. This is the opportunity we all have to make the potential for change a real thing. It is very much in Obama & the Democrats favor that we do so. If they stand with the people, polls again & again show that their support will grow. If he, and the D's, stand apart from this historic struggle, we will have lost an opportunity that comes only in a generation or two.

    Right now, it is, as the old songs asked; "Which side are you on?" If we don't ask, its on us!

    Posted by brucebostick@att.net, 03/14/2011 11:26pm (5 years ago)

  • ....and Mr. Obama would candidly reply - if he would candidly reply - "Who do you have besides me and it would be worse without me in the Oval Office." But the worse of two evils is hardly an option as the real Main Street crumbles.

    Posted by RDC, 03/04/2011 7:10pm (5 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments