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Unions demand more from White House

March 3, 2010 at 1:02 PM
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ORLANDO, Fla., March 3 (UPI) -- Leaders of unions, a crucial constituency for Democrats, say they're disappointed over how little U.S. President Barack Obama has delivered on labor priorities.

Unions' anger Tuesday over Obama's support for the firings of the entire faculty at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island because of its poor graduation rate is just the latest labor beef, The New York Times reports.

Labor leaders also have complained Obama failed to enact the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier to unionize workers, isn't pushing a government option in healthcare and has sought to tax some unionized workers' health benefits.

And union presidents told Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Monday they're worried about persistent high unemployment, stagnant pay and the Obama administration's failure to do more to create jobs.

"We obviously hoped that more would have been done," said James P. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. "We're disappointed that jobs were not emphasized the first year. We're disappointed that the president got bogged down in the healthcare debate. To some extent, we're all frustrated, although we're explaining to our members that he's been slowed down by the right wing."

Obama gained favor among unions when he supported the $787 billion stimulus plan, picked a labor secretary friendly to unions and came down against China in trade disputes.

Recently, the Times pointed out, the president has tried to win over unions and middle-class voters by visiting economically depressed towns, backing a second stimulus to create jobs and starting an effort to rebuild manufacturing.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, which is meeting in Orlando, defended Obama.

"He understands what working people are going through and he really does listen and we really have a seat at the table," Trumka said. "It's totally unfair to say that the president hasn't done this or done that. He's tried on the stimulus bill. He faces tremendous Republican opposition. On healthcare, I give him the highest marks for tenacity."

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