by Amanda Litvinov
President Obama celebrated Labor Day with thousands of working men and women in Toledo, Ohio, where union pride and support for workers’ rights were reinvigorated during last year’s historic citizens’ veto of legislation that threatened collective bargaining rights in the state.
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‘This day belongs to the working men and women of America,” Obama said before a crowd of 3,000 union members and supporters from the Ohio Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, AFSCME and the United Auto Workers, which hosted the event at Scott High School. “It’s working people like you who helped lay the cornerstones of middle class security, things that people sometimes take for granted but weren’t always there.”
“It is unions like yours that helped to forge the basic bargain of this country,” the President continued, “a bargain that says if you work hard, if you’re responsible, you should be rewarded. If you put in enough effort, you should be able to find a job that pays the bills, you should be able to afford a home to call your own, to have health care you can count on if you get sick… and most importantly, you can provide your children with an education to make sure that they do even better than you.”
“It’s clear that President Obama respects what teachers do and that educators and educator unions are one and the same,” said Dan Greenberg, a high school English teacher and vice president of his Sylvania County local. “Unions are how we work together to advocate for good policies for better public schools for our all of our children.”
“Together with President Obama this Labor Day, we must reaffirm our commitment to giving working American families a strong voice,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel, who stood shoulder-to-shoulder with fellow union leaders during the rally. “We will continue to support policies that will bring economic security, prosperity, and social justice to middle class families, to our members and their families, and the students we serve.”
Teacher Kay-Lynne Schaller, who could be spotted in the stands during the rally flashing peace signs, worries about what education policy would look like under a Romney presidency. “If money is drained out of the public schools by vouchers, we’ll have larger class sizes and I worry about what that’s going to mean for our students,” she said. “Some of our students don’t have every advantage at home, and the public schools really are their best shot at a great future.”
The President, too, was critical of his opponent’s ideas about education while speaking to the crowd in Toledo.
Obama illustrated Gov. Romney’s assertion that students should receive the education they can afford: “This young college student says, ‘How can I get some help going to college? [Romney] says, “Well, you need to borrow some money from your parents.”
“I’ve got a different approach that says let’s make sure Americans once again lead the world in educating our kids and training our workers for the jobs of tomorrow,” Obama said to the roaring crowd. “And that means let’s hire more great teachers, especially in math and science. Let’s help more folks go to community colleges to get trained in the skills that employers are hiring for right now.”
Also speaking at the rally were Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and Ohio legislators Sen. Sherrod Brown and Rep. Marcy Kaptur.
In a special message to NEA members, Solis wrote that while Labor Day is a celebration of labor’s proud past sustaining the economic security of the middle class, it is also a call to action.
“We know what’s at stake, and we know what we have to do. We have to put teachers back in the classrooms,” said Solis. “We’ve come so far in the last 3-and-a-half years, but we’ve still got a long way to go. President Obama has called for funding to support 400,000 teaching jobs, including programs that will protect up to 280,000 teachers who are at risk of being laid off due to state and local budget cuts and help rehire tens of thousands of teachers and school support staff who have lost their jobs.”
“These jobs don’t just help struggling families,” wrote Solis, “they give our kids a fair shot at success.”