Obama: We should make it easier for workers to organize

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Although the focus on the Employee Free Choice Act is on the U.S. House and the Senate, it’s important to remember the reason we’re closer than ever to passing this critical bill is because working people turned out in huge numbers to elect a president who will sign it into law. We got a fresh reminder of that commitment yesterday when Barack Obama paid a visit to Costa Mesa, Calif., to discuss the economy.

In his comments at the Costa Mesa town hall meeting, Obama pointed out that making it easier for workers to form unions is critical to making the economy work for everyone again.

Robert Balgenorth, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council of California, was among the attendees, and in a question and answer session, Balgenorth criticized the Bush administration’s failure to enforce prevailing wage laws and other protections for workers. Obama pointed to these protections as key to strengthening the middle class—and added that workers also must have the freedom to form unions if we’re going to build an economy that’s sustainable in the long term:

We think it is important that unions have the opportunity to organize themselves…the business press says that’s anti-business and whenever I hear that I’m always reminded of what Henry Ford said when he first started building the Model T, and he was paying his workers really well. And somebody asked him, they said, “Why are you paying your workers so well?” He said, “Well, if I don’t pay them well, they won’t be able to buy a car.”

…part of the problem with our economy, and the way it was growing, was that wages and incomes for ordinary working families were flat for the entire decade. Now, I don’t need to tell you this because you’ve experienced it in your own lives. You’ve just barely kept up with inflation while people at the very top…were seeing all the benefits.

When I say that we should make it easier for unions to organize, and observe Davis-Bacon [rules that ensure workers on federally funded building projects are paid a fair wage], all I’m trying to do is to restore some balance to our economy so that middle-class families who are working hard…should be able to save, buy a home, go on a vacation once in a while. They should be able to save for retirement, send their kids to college, that’s not too much to ask for. That’s the American dream, and the only way we get there is if we have bottom-up economic growth instead of top-down economic growth.

It should be no surprise at this point that Obama will work to protect the freedom to form unions and bargain—after all, both Obama and Vice President Joe Biden have pledged their support over the past month—but it’s a delight every time it’s reaffirmed. When the Employee Free Choice Act passes, we have a president who will sign it into law. It’s what millions of workers fought for last year, and it’s what we need to turn around our economy.