President Obama supports labor movement

January 30, 2009 7:02:03 PM PST
President Obama makes the strongest stand in a generation in favor of labor unions. But some in Silicon Valley think it could do more harm than good.

On the economy, President Barack Obama signaled once again the ground is shifting -- this time with regard to unions.

With his signature on three executive orders, President Barack Obama expanded workers rights and reversed Bush administration orders that were seen as anti-union.

Then, the president said something that hasn't been heard in the Oval Office for a long time.

"I do not view the labor movement as part of the problem, to me it's part of the solution," said President Obama.

The president called for leveling the playing field for workers and the unions that represent them.

"Because we know that you cannot have a strong middle class without a strong labor movement," said President Obama.

Labor union lawyer and Boalt Hall professor David Rosenfeld calls it a seismic shift.

"It creates a whole new tone in this country of not being negative about unions but being positive about unions," said Rosenfeld.

To illustrate the significance of that, Rosenfeld says look back 28 years to President Ronald Reagan and his fight with PATCO, the Air Traffic Controllers Union. When PATCO lost that fight, Rosenfeld says management all over the country took their cue from the White House.

"The real problem was that then it encouraged employers there after hired for example hired permanent replacements which they'd almost never done before," said Rosenfeld.

Rosenfeld believes President Obama's support of unions signals a rise in union power, which Silicon Valley entrepreneur John Fisher sees as problematic.

"Well, I think the problem is U.S. auto manufacturers for example, are not viable businesses in large part because of the cost and complexity of their labor unions," said Fisher.

Mr. Obama didn't address auto companies or auto workers directly, but said it isn't an either or proposition between workers and shareholders.

"That's the old argument. The new argument is that the American economy is not and never has been a zero-sum game, when workers are prospering, they buy products that make businesses prosper," said President Obama.

The president appointed Vice President Joe Biden to head a middle class task force, charged with creating good paying jobs and training people to fill them.