Obama, CEO Lovefest Produces No Pledges to Create Jobs, Stop Union Busting

Mike Elk

President Obama with Honeywell CEO David Cote in 2009.

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Yesterday, President Obama met with some of the nation’s largest CEOs asking them to do more to create jobs in the United States. Obama reportedly asked business leaders what he could do to help create more jobs in America. Perhaps Obama should have been asking these CEOs why, despite numerous pledges to keep good jobs in America, they continue to ship them overseas.

We would have preferred to bare down on these CEOs to commit with actual specifics on how they were going to hire ten thousands of workers. I mean actual plans of where they were going to hire these people” said UE Political Action Director Chris Townsend. We would have preferred feel good promises for the cameras that are based in facts.”

In attendance was GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt. Immelt had made big headlines last year promising to bring manufacturing jobs back to America. Some companies had gone overboard with outsourcing in the past and now it was time to bring that work back into the United States to create a strong economy,” Immelt said at the Detroit Economic Club. This country ought to be, and we can be, not just the world’s leading market but a leading exporter as well. GE plans to lead this effort.” The storied company launched a multi-million dollar ad campaign playing up their pledge to keep jobs in America.

While GE is opening a few factories in the United States in order to qualify for public grants, it’s moving most of its factories overseas. Since Obama has been elected president, GE has announced the closing of 26 plants in the United States, according to Townsend. Many suspect the multi-million dollar media campaign to keep jobs in the United States is nothing but an effort to win government contracts.

Also in attendance was Boeing CEO Jerry McNerney. Boeing has been moving work to Asia and IT jobs to China. Boeing, likewise, has been engaged in massive union busting at its South Carolina facility. Jim McNerney, president and chief executive of Boeing, told CNBC in regards to businesses’ opposition toObama on several initiatives: We all made our apologies and said we wanted to move on.” In his post summit comments, though, McNerney made no promise to bring back those jobs from Asia or India. Nor did Boeing pledge to discontinue any of its union busting.

Also in attendance was one of the most high-profile union busters in America — Honeywell CEO David Cote. Determined to break unions throughout his company, Cote locked out union workers at Honeywell’s uranium enrichment facility in Metropolis, Ill. Honeywell has since hired poorly trained scabs to operate the facility, which has already resulted in an explosion at the plant. While the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) initially prevented the plant from using the scabs, it has now — under political pressure — taken the unprecedented step of waving its 60-year precedent of not allowing scabs to work in this extremely dangerous uranium facility.

With the lockout in its fifth month, Honeywell has spent more money keeping workers locked out at the Metropolis facility than it would be spending if it were providing the workers what they want. According to union officials, Honeywell has already spent or lost at least $48.8 million to keep the workers locked out over a four month period.

In contrast, agreeing to workers’ demands that Honeywell maintain their current health and retirement benefits would cost the company only $20 million over the life of a three-year contract. Honeywell is spending more than twice the amount it would take to maintain current workers’ benefits because it has its eye on a much larger goal: destroying the unions that represent workers at thousands of Honeywell facilities around the country.

Obama’s invitation of Cote drew sharp criticism from the United Steelworkers. How suitable that the biggest corporate PAC contributor has secured a ticket to the White House to promote himself and Honeywell Corp,” said United Steelworkers Public Affairs Director Gary Hubbard. He added:

But he’s the wrong guy to be asked to fix America’s economy. He has dirty hands with his lock out of 230 loyal USW workers and their families since Jun. 28. Instead of negotiating corporate deals in the White House, he should give priority to meeting at the Union Hall in Metropolis, and negotiate a deal that puts his union-represented employees back to work.

Obama is expected to meet with labor leaders later in the week where he is expected to ask unions to be more cooperative in accommodating the needs of business in this tough economic time. This would follow on the precedent set by Obama by forcing federal workers to accept a two-year wage freeze.

The irony is this: Asking workers to accept wage cuts will only increase the effects of the recession; it won’t create jobs. If Obama really wants to create jobs perhaps it’s time that he threaten companies like Boeing, GE and Honeywell that receive massive amounts of federal contracts to either keep jobs in America and treat workers right or lose the business of the United States.

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Mike Elk wrote for In These Times and its labor blog, Working In These Times, from 2010 to 2014. He is currently a labor reporter at Politico.
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