Sep 062011
 
Authors: McClatchy-Tribune

DETROIT — President Barack Obama hinted to a Labor Day crowd in Detroit some of what he’ll be saying Thursday in a major jobs address to a joint session of Congress.

“We’ve got roads and bridges across this country that need rebuilding,” he told a crowd of mostly unionists who had just marched in their annual parade. “We’ve got more than 1 million unemployed construction workers ready to get dirty right now.”

He also said he’s ready to ask Congress to extend a payroll tax cut that is set to expire before the end of the year.

“I still believe both parties can work together to solve our problems,” Obama said. “We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party.”

Obama’s words were what the union members said they wanted to hear.

“We’ve got construction workers out of work, and we’ve got things that need to be done,” said Carol Ussery-Huckleby, 54, of Southfield, Mich. “We’ve got to put them together.”

For Al Calhoun of Pontiac, Mich., president of United Steelworkers Local 690L, there was just one concern: “Jobs, jobs and more jobs.”

Barry McBride of Green Oak Township, Mich., said he remains concerned that Obama works too hard to compromise with Republicans (who control the U.S. House) instead of “helping out the people that put him in office.”

But McBride said he plans to vote for Obama again in 2012. “I support him, but he needs to support us,” he said.

State Republicans responded to Obama’s speech with a strong counter punch. In a conference call with reporters, Michigan Republican Party Chairman Robert Schostak said, “Rank-and-file moms and dads are hurting big- time, simply because Obama’s policies aren’t working. The last stimulus plan was a colossal failure.”

But Obama celebrated a portion of that stimulus plan — the $81 billion federal rescue of General Motors and Chrysler in 2009, and the fact that the auto industry gave rise to the middle class in Michigan and across the nation.

“Our economy is stronger when workers are getting paid good wages and good benefits,” he said. “Having a voice on the job and a chance to get organized and a chance to negotiate for a fair day’s pay … is the right of every man and woman in America: not just the CEO in the corner office, but also the janitor who cleans that office.”

The crowd, estimated at about 12,000, filled the GM parking lot next to the Renaissance Center and repeatedly chanted “Obama,” “More good jobs,” and “Four more years “ during the speech, especially when Obama said he was prepared to stick up for organized labor.

“After all that unions have done to build and protect the middle class, you’ve got people trying to claim that you’re responsible for the problems middle class folks are facing,” he said. “Imagine that.”

Carmen Mitchell, 56, a retiree from Inkster, Mich., said workers get no respect from the bosses.
“Changes in the law are being pushed very fast,and they’re not in the best interest of us workers,” she said.

But state Rep. Mike Shirkey, a Republican, said right-to-work legislation is the last piece of the puzzle for an economic rebound in Michigan:

“We’ve done the tax structure, and we’re whacking away at regulation, and this is one of the last remaining obstacles when businesses compare Michigan with labor free states.”

State Rep. Marty Knollenberg, also a Republican and one of the sponsors of state right-to-work legislation, added, “This is not a slam against unions. It’s about freedom to choose. Why should employment be subject to joining a union?”

But Obama, to cheers from the crowd, characterized right-to-work legislation as “right-to-work for less and less and less.”

 Posted by at 4:45 am

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