Speaking to hundreds of union leaders and activists on a July 31 conference call, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama vowed to be "a champion of working people." Specifically, Obama said, that means signing the Employee Free Choice Act, making sure the U.S. Department of Labor actually looks out for working people, and returning the National Labor Relations Board to a body that's not stacked against workers trying to organize unions. "We need a strong labor movement in this country," he said.
In introducing Obama, AFL-CIO president John Sweeney said the Illinois senator "has a deep understanding of the problems faced by working families in our country." Sweeney was part of an economic roundtable discussion-featuring a diverse collection of economists and other experts-that Obama recently held.
Obama outlined a number of issues where his approach to the economy will be "fundamentally different" from that of President Bush and Republican candidate John McCain. These include negotiating trade agreements that are fair to workers, ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas, creating 5 million new "green" jobs that can't be outsourced as well as 2 million additional jobs focused on rebuilding the country's infrastructure, and improving healthcare coverage and retirement security.
His days as a community organizer in Chicago, Obama said, showed him the importance of working with unions to get things done in the community. And in the current presidential campaign, he continued, unions will play a central role in communicating to their members about issues and candidates.
"When the labor movement decides to endorse a candidate and really work it, I know what a difference it can make," he said, adding that he knows the home visits, phone calls and literature workers receive from the unions are the most important communications they receive during a campaign. "If I have your help, we're going to win in November."
August 1, 2008