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On Wednesday, the White House hosted a Summit on Worker Voice, an all-day event focused on promoting organized labor. The Summit featured panel discussions involving workers, union officials and organizers, and "model" employers. Both President Obama and Vice President Biden spoke at the event. President Obama said one of the goals of the Summit was to explore how to encourage a growing movement around the country to “empower workers.”
Labor Secretary Perez set the tone when he said that the United States should be doing more to address the income gap and increase worker protections. President Obama made clear in his remarks that he favored an increased union presence in the workplace and that organized labor was key to a healthy economy. “The middle class was built on a union label . . . I believe that when people attack unions they’re attacking the middle class.” He went on to say that given the current economic climate, efforts should be taken to make it easier for people to join unions.
The President endorsed the Workplace Action for a Growing Economy (WAGE) Act, introduced by Senator Murray in September and drafted with input from the AFL-CIO. With respect to issues such as overtime, the President cited “major victories” in cities such as Los Angeles and New York. Finally, he told the audience “you can’t wait for Congress” to institute workplace reform and increase the presence of organized labor.
Vice President Biden delivered the Summit's closing remarks, heavily promoting organized labor as a way to increase worker protections and quality of life. He echoed Obama’s sentiment that unions “built the middle class,” and that these workers would not have those rights and protections without the organized labor movement. He also seconded the President’s endorsement of the WAGE Act. The Vice President discussed the need for improved efforts to increase a trained work force and expand paid sick leave and overtime protections. He concluded by saying average Americans needed to be lifted along with the economy, emphasizing this is the reason "why we need organized labor. That’s why we need collective bargaining.”
The Summit caps an already aggressive campaign to advance the President's "Middle Class Economics" agenda and facilitate union organizing through administrative, rather than legislative, action. The Summit suggests that more of such action is forthcoming in the remainder of President Obama's term. The Summit is also indicative of the role organized labor and their agenda is playing in the race for the next occupant of the White House.