Labor unions might not be as thrilled with Obama this week as they usually are, as two areas of friction emerged ahead of the president’s visit to West Hartford.
The first is the gun control issue that’s attracting Obama to Connecticut in the first place. As it happens, the United Auto Workers union has 489 jobs at Colt’s Manufacturing Co. and Colt Defense LLC, at the companies’ plant just a few miles from where Obama spoke.
UAW has been silent on Connecticut’s ban on the sale of AR-15-type rifles to the general public — which are made at the plant in large numbers — and on Obama’s push for a national ban. Obama did a lot to help the union during the auto bailouts of 2009, but no one is saying this silence is payback.
The second issue is a clear rift between Obama and the organized labor coalitions to worked so hard in both of his elections. Obama wants to change the way Social Security is calculated, according to numerous published reports, in a way that would lower the annual cost-of-living increases, known as COLA.
The change will be contained in Obama’s budget, due to be presented to Congress Wednesday — and unions are dead-set against the idea.
Several labor leaders said they were not aware of any protests at the University of Hartford Monday, where Obama spoke, but that doesn’t mean they’re happy about the plan.
“We believe that’s not the way to solve the problems of Social Security,” said John W. Olsen, president of the state AFL-CIO and a former state Democratic Party chairman. “If I have a chance, of course I would tell him, ‘Don’t go after the COLA.'”
The issue has angered much of Obama’s base and united labor unions with groups such as AARP. Moveon.org, the grassroots group organized to elect Obama and push his policies, has launched a petition.
And if the president was listening to WWUH-FM 91.3, the University of Hartford’s radio station, on his way to the campus, he’d have heard a hilarious slam against him — from a left-wing folk singer. The station ended a timely political set with Anne Feeney, in Irish folk style, performing a song with the chorus, “Who are you and what did you do with the man I voted for?”
Opponents of the Obama plan, including Olsen, say the better plan is to raise the income limit at which the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax is collected, now $113,700.
“We’ve been meeting with our Congressional delegation. We’re making our opinion known,” said Olsen, who did not expect to meet with Obama on Monday. “If you’re going to solve the problems of Social Security by cutting COLA, that’s unacceptable.”
The gun control issue is trickier. AFL-CIO, which includes the UAW and its members at Colt, does not have a position on Malloy’s ban or on a national ban on so-called assault weapons.
“We’re going to fight for good manufacturing jobs, okay? There’s got to be an industrial policy in this country,” Olsen said.
As for the Connecticut ban, Olsen said the manufacturers should do what they did after the partial bans on military-style rifles in Connecticut in 1993 and in the nation, between 1994 and 2004, when the national ban ended. “I’m hoping that what we can do is modify these weapons and sell just as many of these rifles in Connecticut,” Olsen said.
That may be harder to do this time around, as the ban restricts even a single military-style characteristic, such as the pistol grip that largely defines the AR-15.
Olsen downplays any disagreement between organized labor and Democrats Obama and Malloy. He does not believe UAW is muzzled from criticism of the ban as a result of loyalty to Obama. “I’m not afraid to say I disagree with him on COLA’s, right?”
Olsen added, “The only person I agree with all the time is me.”
Obama would say the same thing, of course. He’s expected to propose the COLA change as a way of compromising, to win higher taxes on very wealthy Americans, which may make sense — depending on the tax. That’s realpolitik, the practice of actually governing rather than campaigning based on ideology.
On gun control, opponents of the proposed (and in Connecticut, enacted) bans on military-style weapons should speak up, even if they’re in bed with Obama, since the bans might not save a single life anyway. It’s clear that the ultra-liberal music movement crowd isn’t pulling punches, based on one of the set-up lines in “The Man I Voted For.”
“You said you’d do things differently, now that’s what makes me sore.”