The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 11, 2012

Romney, Obama talk union on the campaign trail

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

WASHINGTON – Barack Obama. Mitt Romney. Compare and contrast.

To the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department Legislative Conference held April 30-May 2 at the Hilton Hotel, President Obama said all the right things to his union audience.

Five weeks earlier, at the Associated Builders and Contractors National Board of Directors meeting in Phoenix, GOP presidential challenger Romney – interrupted several times by applause – also said all the right things, to his anti-union audience.

The comments by the two presidential candidates could not have offered a more stark difference in union philosophy.

At right are comments made by the respective candidates to their audiences. The ABC leaders endorsed Romney for president during their Feb. 23 meeting. The Building Trades’ Governing Board of Presidents endorsed Obama’s re-election on May 1. For some of the reasons why each group made their endorsement, we look to what the candidates themselves said.

President Obama to the Building Trades: ‘unions like yours made sure that everybody had a fair shake’

Following are selected union-related comments made by Democratic President Barack Obama on April 30 to the AFL-CIO Building Trades Department’s 2012 National Legislative Conference.

* “It's always an honor to be with folks who get up every day and work real jobs – and every day fight for America's workers. You represent the latest in a long, proud line of men and women who built this country from the bottom up.

“And along the way, unions like yours made sure that everybody had a fair shake, everybody had a fair shot. You helped build the greatest middle class that we've ever seen. You believed that prosperity shouldn’t be reserved just for a privileged few; it should extend all the way from the boardroom all the way down to the factory floor. That's what you believe.

“Time and again, you stood up for the idea that hard work should pay off; responsibility should be rewarded. When folks do the right thing, they should be able to make it here in America. And because you did, America became home of the greatest middle class the world has ever known. You helped make that possible – not just through your organizing but how you lived; looking after your families, looking out for your communities. You’re what America is about.”

* And, by the way, when everybody is doing better and the economy is growing, lo and behold, that actually helps to bring down the deficit, helps us pay off our debt. Previous generations understood this. Apparently, right now, Republicans disagree. And what makes it worse – it would be bad enough if they just had these set of bad ideas, but they’ve also set their sights on dismantling unions like yours. I mean, if you ask them, what’s their big economic plan in addition to tax cuts for rich folks, it’s dismantling your unions. After all you’ve done to build and protect the middle class, they make the argument you’re responsible for the problems facing the middle class. Somehow, that makes sense to them.

* ” I believe our economy is stronger when workers are getting paid good wages and good benefits. That’s what I believe. I believe the economy is stronger when collective bargaining rights are protected. I believe all of us are better off when we’ve got broad-based prosperity that grows outwards from a strong middle class. I believe when folks try and take collective bargaining rights away by passing so-called “right to work” laws that might also be called “right to work for less,” laws – that’s not about economics, that’s about politics.

* That’s why we’ve reversed harmful decisions designed to undermine those rights. That’s why we passed the Fair Pay Act to help stop pay discrimination. That’s why we’ve supported Davis-Bacon. That’s why we reversed the ban on Project Labor Agreements, because we believe in those things as part of a strategy to rebuild America.

And as long as I’m your President. I am going to keep it up – because the right to organize and negotiate fair pay for hard work, that’s the right of every American, from the CEO in the corner office all the way to the worker who built that office.”

* “And every day, you’re hearing from the other side whether it’s the idea that tax cuts for the wealthy are more important than investing for our future, or the notion we should pursue anti-worker policies in the hopes that somehow unions are going to crumble. It’s all part of that same old philosophy – tired, worn-out philosophy that says if you’ve already made it, we’ll protect you; if you haven’t made it yet, well, tough luck, you’re on your own.

That misreads America. That's not what America is about. The American story has never been about what we can do on our own. It’s about what we do together.

* ”That's why unions were built – they understood workers on their own wouldn't have the same ability to look after themselves and their families as they could together. And what’s true for you is true for America. We can’t settle for a country where just a few people do really well and everybody else struggles to get by. We've got to build an economy where everybody has got a fair shot, and everybody does their fair share, and everybody plays by the same set of rules. We can’t just cut our way to prosperity.”