May 2, 2012
By Marc Bussanich, LaborPress City Reporter
President Barack Obama appealed to the mostly white working-class union members of the Building and Construction Trades on Monday, April 30 in Washington, D.C., at its 2012 Legislative Congress by telling them that the biggest obstacle to putting them back to work rebuilding and building new infrastructure are Republican legislators who insist on reducing the deficit.
“The point is infrastructure shouldn’t be a partisan issue. Ronald Regan once said that rebuilding our infrastructure is ‘common sense’—an investment in tomorrow that we need to make today.’ Ronald Reagan said that, that great socialist,” Obama said, which led to uproarious laughter among the tradesmen and tradeswomen from around the country who gathered in the Washington Hilton.
Obama agreed that the deficit is a problem that needs to be addressed. But he pointed out the irony in the top Republican leadership’s reasoning.
“Their argument might actually fly if they didn’t just vote to spend $4.6 trillion on top of the $1 trillion they’d spend on tax cuts for people making more than $250,000 a year. So they’re willing to spend over $5 trillion to give tax breaks to folks who don’t need them.”
Just as he did at the White House Correspondents Dinner over the weekend at the Washington Hilton, President Obama couldn’t resist the temptation to jab Repubs.
“I sent them a jobs bill that would have put hundreds of thousands of construction workers back to work…..They said no. So then I said maybe they couldn’t handle the whole bill in one big piece. I broke it up and sent them just the part of the bill that would have created construction jobs for repairing and building new bridges. They said no.”
Obama admitted he’s not very skillful at hammering a nail into a wall, but said, “Here is what I know about the trades: If you got folks who aren’t pulling together, things don’t work. But if you’ve got enough people with the same goal, you can build something that’ll stand long after you’re gone,” like the Golden Gate Bridge, Hoover Dam, or the Empire State Building.
As President Obama ended his speech, shook hands with the International Building Trades’ executive board and waved to the audience, the mostly white working-class union members and leaders chanted, “Four More Years!”
Unions React to President’s Speech
LaborPress caught up with some of the New York leadership at the conference and almost each one said that what they liked most about Obama’s speech is his commitment to enforcing prevailing wage laws on federal projects, which his predecessor rescinded and Republican presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, plans to rescind if elected. However, they were mostly mute about whether Obama could have been more vigorous on new job-creating measures.
Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades of Greater New York, said, “I think President Obama was right on target today. I think he got the message across today that what’s good for the building trades is good for America.”
While frustrated at Republicans as a whole because they cater to the 1 percent, LaBarbera noted there are a handful of Republicans such as U.S. Congressman Michael Grimm of Staten Island who recognize the importance of PLAs.
Matty Aracich, business manager for Insulators Local 12, said most important to him about Obama’s speech was the President’s focus on the middle class because “the middle class has been the basis for prosperity in our country.” He also noted that if Obama gets reelected, the country is poised for a more complete recovery so long as the Democrats put the necessary boots on the ground to win Congress.
Mario Mattera, business agent for the 1,000-member U.A. Plumbers Local 200, liked that the President took a strong stand on upholding PLAs and for taking action to “keep workers in the middle class because the country will be in a lot of trouble without a middle class.”
A registered Republican, Mattera said he has been showing his members a YouTube video where Romney speaks to members of the Associated Builders and Contractors, which has endorsed Romney for president, and says he’ll repeal PLAs if he’s president.
“The Democrats are a little too liberal for me, but I’ll be displaying the video once a month until Election Day so that my members know beyond a reasonable doubt where Romney stands on PLAs,” said Mattera.
Jack Kittle, political director for IUPAT DC 9, said, “President Obama has tried his best to do the right things, but right now we have a Congress whose mission is to make sure he’s a one-term president.” firstname.lastname@example.org