Obama Touts Pro-Union Views, Hammers Clinton Over NAFTA

“It is time to let unions do what they do best: organize,” Obama said during a stop at a drywall factory in Lorain, Ohio. “That’s why we need to go ahead and pass the Employee Free Choice Act.”  According to Sal Roselli’s attack on Andy Stern a few weeks ago (and now Obabma agrees) “representation” is not what union’s do best!

Obama Touts Pro-Union Views, Hammers Clinton Over NAFTA

Posted 2/25/2008

Barack Obama has been accused of borrowing lines from Gov. Deval Patrick, D-Mass., a supporter.

He also seems to be borrowing from former rival John Edwards.

In campaign stops across Ohio, the Illinois senator has portrayed himself, as Edwards did, as an economic populist. Calls to national unity and transcending differences are mixed in with attacks on drug and insurance companies, calls for minimum wage hikes and an end to outsourcing.

He has stressed his ties to Big Labor, vowing action on their policy wish list, like reworking trade deals such as NAFTA and making labor organizing radically easier.

“It is time to let unions do what they do best: organize,” Obama said during a stop at a drywall factory in Lorain, Ohio. “That’s why we need to go ahead and pass the Employee Free Choice Act.”

Obama’s talk on unions and populism comes as he tries to sew up the Democratic nomination with wins in Texas and Ohio on March 4.

Selling Populism In Ohio

Ohio is heavily unionized and is facing hard economic times. The state has lost 200,000 jobs since 2000. Unemployment was 6% in December, a point higher than nationwide. The median income is $4,000 below the U.S. average.

Obama has repeatedly hit Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., on NAFTA, saying she can’t take credit for the success of her husband’s administration without taking the blame for its failures. NAFTA, he says, has “devastated” Ohio and the country.

Obama has won high-profile endorsements recently from the Teamsters, the Service Employees International Union and the United Food and Commercial Workers.

“For seven years I had been (the unions’) ally in the state legislature, sponsoring many of their bills and making their case on the floor,” Obama wrote in his political memoir, “The Audacity of Hope.”

He credits unions with saving his U.S. Senate bid. After the AFL-CIO backed a rival for the Democratic nomination, several big service worker unions endorsed Obama anyway, helping him get the nod.

“So I owe those unions. When their leaders call, I do my best to call them back right away,” he wrote, adding, “I don’t consider this corrupting in any way. . . . I got into politics to fight for these folks, and I’m glad a union is around to remind me of their struggles.”

The card check bill, for example, would let unions organize via a petition drive, bypassing a secret ballot overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. Critics say that may result in worker intimidation.

Obama would overturn NLRB rulings classifying some people in nursing, construction and other industries as supervisors that therefore aren’t eligible to be organized.

He vows to close loopholes that benefit firms that outsource abroad and says he would renegotiate deals like NAFTA to include worker and environmental protections in the U.S. and in other countries.

Unions will play a role in vetting and monitoring those agreements, the Obama campaign says.

“Labor unions are very much involved in terms of reviewing and making known what their opinions are, more than anything else,” said spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

Several union officials slammed Clinton over NAFTA in an Obama campaign conference call Monday.

“The Clinton administration was not only the architect of the deal but shoved it down the throats of Democrats in Congress,” said Bruce Raynor, president of Unite Here.

Workers Skeptical

NAFTA is a sore subject for Chad Henry. A worker at the drywall factory in Lorain, he says he lost an earlier job at a communications company because of it.

“Everything went to Mexico,” he said. “They brought the Mexican work force up here. We trained them on our jobs. Next thing you know we had a meeting and we did not have jobs anymore.”

So when Henry heard Obama attack NAFTA during Monday’s stop at his factory, one might expect it would win him over. It didn’t.

“I’m still up in the air,” Henry said, adding he was more interested in how Obama would handle the housing slump, which is worrying to the drywall factory worker.

John Hunter, a former United Auto Workers official, says candidates often bad-mouth NAFTA. Union voters have become jaded.

“He didn’t give a lot of meat about what he would do,” Hunter said.

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