President Obama on Tuesday told workers at a General Motors plant and the AFL-CIO convention that his administration deserved credit for reviving the nation's economy.
In Lordstown, Ohio, Obama stood on a small stage on the factory floor at GM's massive small-car plant.
Like all GM factories, the future of the Lordstown plant, which builds the high-mileage Chevy Cobalt, was in doubt after the financial crisis sent the automaker's fortunes plummeting. Last summer, Lordstown had 4,000 workers. That number fell to 2,200, as the number of shifts at the plant fell from three to one.
Obama said that the government's help for GM and the popular Cash for Clunkers program, which allowed customers to trade in their old vehicles for newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles, have had a huge impact.
"One hundred and fifty of your co-workers came back to work yesterday," he said to applause. "More than 1,000 will be coming back to work in less than three weeks as production of the Cobalt ramps up."
Obama offered a vigorous defense of his economic policies as a counterweight to growing criticism from Republicans.
A few hours later, Obama was at the Pittsburgh convention center for the AFL-CIO national convention.
"The White House is pretty nice," he said, "but there's nothing like being back in the house of labor."
Obama acknowledged the frustrations and discontent polls show Americans have as they deal with the effects of a prolonged recession.
"I know too many people are still looking for work or worried they'll be the next ones let go," he said. "But the Recovery Act is making a difference. We've stopped our economic free fall."
Energizing The Crowd
Union members were an important part of the ground operation that helped Obama win the presidency. They are also among the most aggressive supporters of his call for an overhaul of the nation's health care system
Obama said even union members with good health care plans stand to gain from an overhaul. He cited a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation showing that health premiums for families rose three times faster than wages over the past decade.
"When you go in to negotiate, you can't even think about negotiating for a salary — a wage increase — because the whole negotiation is about trying to keep the benefits you already have," he said.
Obama energized the crowd, including 31-year-old Matt Ellenberger, a union painter from Clarion, Pa.
Ellenberger said Obama has to rally the troops as he did during the presidential campaign. "That's what he's doing now," he said.
Ellenberger says it's part of the fight the president can't overlook as he deals with Congress.
Obama has another big rally later in the week at the University of Maryland.