President Obama is hosting the first-ever White House Summit on Worker Voice today, during which he condemned the “culture of greed” that steps on workers’ protections and rights.
The President talked about the importance of unions and said that when people attack unions, they are attacking the middle class. His entire speech made the case for the importance of unions and collective bargaining– for workers to have a seat at the table.
Obama introduced a common set of principles that helped build this country, including the right to, without fear, join a union or some other way of advocating for yourself at work:
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) October 7, 2015
The President said Americans are working harder than ever to bring this country back after the worst crisis in his lifetime in 2007. “We’re on pace to sell more cars th0an in any year since 2001… We’ve seen stronger job growth and manufacturing since the 1990s…. For the first time on record, more than 90% of Americans have health insurance.”
“So we’ve made progress together, at a time when America’s economy was flat on its back, we took some tough steps, not always popular,” President Obama said. The Democrat said it wasn’t enough to get back to where we were before Lehmans, as there were income inequality problems that started long before that which need to be addressed.
“If you work hard in America, you should actually be able to take care of those you love,” Obama said.
The President said the biggest challenge America continues to have is that everyone who works hard should have economic security. Obama emphasized, “Wages need to raise more quickly… and in order to do that, workers need a voice, a voice that generates middle class security.”
“But if employers are able to use these factors to weaken workers’ voices and give them a take it or leave it deal in which they don’t ever have a chance to ever save for the kind of retirement they’re looking for, if we don’t refashion the social compact so that workers are able to be rewarded properly for the work they put in, we’re going to have a problem.”
Speaking to the room full workers, labor leaders, Members of Congress (Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senator Al Franken among them) and forward-thinking business leaders, President Obama passionately made the case that hard work should offer a measure of security, “We gotta make sure that… hard work guarantees some security.”
Obama said, “The middle class itself was built on a union label.” Extolling the benefits of unions for everyone, he laid out some of the benefits of a union, “Good pay. Benefits. Workplace safety. Work-family balance. Skills training. The freedom to organize. That’s what unions secured.”
The President explained that special interests sold the American people on the idea that worker protections, including unions, would hurt their job prospects, so union enrollment dropped. People felt less confident about negotiations.
President Obama condemned the culture of greed, “Our culture as a whole started somehow extolling ‘greed is good’ instead of ‘how do we work together to create a good society for everybody’. Jobs as a consequence began to pay less, offering fewer benefits.”
“The bottom line is as union membership has fallen, inequality has risen. .. I believe when folks attack unions, they’re attacking the middle class,” the President said. “In today’s economy we should be making it easier, not harder, to join a union.”
The President was introduced by Terrence Wise, a second-generation fast food worker and father of three daughters, who has worked for two decades but makes only $8. Wise’s mother was also in the audience, and the two haven’t seen each other for years because neither, as fast food workers, make enough for an out of state visit.
Wise is a member of the National Organizing Committee for the Fight for $15 movement, which according to a pool report, is a campaign by underpaid working Americans to boost wages and strengthen their freedom to form unions without retaliation.
President Obama was on fire during this speech, speaking about an issue close to his heart — the fate of the middle class and the importance of unions in building and protecting the middle class.
The President has been relentless about advocating for better wages, a higher minimum wage, and more security for working people. And although he’s been obstructed at every turn by Republicans, he has found ways around them like raising the wage for federal workers and working with neighboring state leaders to raise the wage state by state.
Ms. Jones is the editor-in-chief of PoliticusUSA.
Sarah hosts Politicus News and co-hosts Politicus Radio. Her analysis has been featured on several national radio, television news programs and talk shows, and print outlets including Stateside with David Shuster, as well as The Washington Post, The Atlantic Wire, CNN, MSNBC, The Week, The Hollywood Reporter, and more.
Sarah has won two Telly Awards and is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists.