March 4, 2009 / 1:18 AM / 11 years ago

Obama: Bush government tried to undermine unions

President Barack Obama listens to his introduction at the Department of the Interior in Washington March 3, 2009. REUTERS/Jim Young

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama said on Tuesday the Bush administration had tried to undermine organized labor and he assured U.S. labor leaders they would always have a “place at the table” under his presidency.

“We need to level the playing field for workers and the unions that represent their interests,” Obama said in prepared remarks for a video address to the executive board of the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation, meeting in Miami.

Obama, who won strong backing from trade unions in his Democratic presidential campaign, said there could not be a strong middle class, the focus of his economic recovery plan, without a strong labor movement.

He reminded union leaders he had acted swiftly to start reversing some of the labor policies of his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, that unions have long contended favored employers over workers.

“We’ve reversed the ban on project labor agreements and we’ve overturned the previous administration’s executive orders which were designed not only to undermine critical government work but to undermine organized labor,” Obama said.

Within days of taking office on January 20, Obama signed three orders to bolster unions and workers’ rights. The first will prevent taxpayer funds from being used to reimburse federal contractors who spend money to impede workers from organizing.

A second requires federal contractors to inform employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act, and third was aimed at ensuring that qualified workers kept their jobs even when a federal contract changed hands.

“I want you to know that you will always have a seat at the table,” Obama said in his prepared remarks to labor official representing unions with 11 million members.

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