After a very public outreach to corporate executives who have been critical of his policies, President Obama turned on Friday to labor union leaders who also have recently criticized his policies.
But while the White House would like to neutralize the CEOs without any illusion of turning them into allies, Obama needs to turn around the restive labor leaders to make them his enthusiastic backers again as he starts planning his reelection campaign.
The leaders sitting down with Obama in the Roosevelt Room included AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka; United Food and Commercial Workers President Joe Hansen, who heads Change to Win; National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel; United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard; American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten; American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees President Gerald McEntee; Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry; United Auto Workers President Bob King; International Association of Fire Fighters President Harold Schaitberger; International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers President Ed Hill; National Association of Letter Carriers President Fred Rolando; and International Union of Painters and Allied Trades President Jimmy Williams.
Several of the leaders were miffed at the president’s support for a revised U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement and his compromise deal with Republicans on taxes. Almost all of them are frustrated that Obama did not deliver on more of his promises to labor while Democrats enjoyed substantial majorities in both the House and the Senate. And all are fearful that Republicans will launch an assault on labor-backed gains once they take over the House next month.
Following the meeting, Trumka sidestepped questions about any disagreements, saying, “We didn’t talk about any specific issues that occurred before today.” He called it “a great meeting with the president,” and said Obama has been “very supportive of the American labor movement.”
Trumka said the meeting focused on “how we can create jobs.” Asked to be more specific, he cited “long-term infrastructure” projects.
Some of the leaders are more supportive than others. The UAW’s King, for example, has come out in favor of the South Korea trade deal because of improvements Obama negotiated to improve market access for American cars in South Korea.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said this meeting was part of a larger effort to get more ideas on how to create more jobs. “The president has sought to hear from and learn from a whole host of folks,” he said.
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