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Union Leaders Emphasize Positives Ahead Of Obama’s Appearance At Milwaukee Labor Event

President Speaking At Milwaukee's Laborfest

President Barack Obama talking to the Laborfest crowd in Milwaukee in 2010. | Photo: Emily Mills

Union leaders in Milwaukee said that they’re glad President Barack Obama will speak at a labor rally in the city on Monday, but some say they have a to-do list for the president’s final two years in office.

Obama is expected to speak to more than 5,000 union members at Laborfest, an annual gathering that was canceled last year because financial problems.

Sheila Cochran, a Milwaukee Area Labor Council leader, said those problems have been fixed. She said she’s thrilled White House officials called and asked if the president could speak at the event because Obama has been a friend to unions. As proof, Cochran says to look at the U.S. Labor Department.

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“We know that we have friends in the Department of Labor. They’re tried very hard to steer the Department of Labor back to working with working people all over the country — not just union members,” she said.

Cochran also said the president has been promoting an increase in the minimum wage, but that Republicans in Congress are blocking some of his pro-labor initiatives.

Cochran acknowledges some union members want Obama to take more action on his own.

Joe Oulahan, a machinist and member of the Milwaukee Labor Council Executive Board, said organized labor would benefit if the president promises not to deport non-violent, undocumented workers who are in the country.

“I can’t tell you how many workers I’ve talked to who would love to consider a union. They’re having a lot of trouble at work and they know that the union is the answer. But, they won’t stand up because maybe not themselves but maybe a family member or someone they know is vulnerable,” he said.

Oulahan emphasizes that he’s also glad the president is visiting Milwaukee.

Republicans said last week that expanding protections against deportation would create a security nightmare and open the U.S. to more terrorist attacks.