Jarrett pledges administration support to finish silica rule

LOS ANGELES — Valerie Jarrett, one of President Obama’s closest aides, pledged to labor on Sunday to complete a worker safety rule long lobbied for by unions. 

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Speaking to union members and leaders at the AFL-CIO’s conference on diversity, Jarrett touted the Obama administration’s effort to protect workers from harmful silica dust. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) last month issued draft regulations for the rule, which had been under review at the White House for more than two years.

Jarrett said the administration and labor want to do what’s right for the country.

“It includes our effort that is underway at OSHA to protect workers from the crystalline silica particles,” Jarrett said.

The White House adviser noted that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka had personally pitched her on finishing the regulation.

“Rich and I have breakfast on a regular basis. And at one of those breakfasts that he shared with me the story about his dad and just how painful it was for him to come home and hear his father’s voice and his cough at night when he was trying to sleep,” Jarrett said.

Some business groups have voiced concerns about the rule, saying the new safety standards aren’t necessary and could be costly to companies to enforce. But Jarrett said the administration is committed to finishing the regulation.

“He [Trumka] said to me I’m not stopping until we get that rule done. And we are going to get that rule done,” Jarrett said to long sustained applause from the crowd.

Jarrett also addressed unions’ issues with the Affordable Care Act. Several labor groups are worried that ObamaCare will hurt their members’ healthcare plans, known as Taft-Hartley plans, and are pushing the White House to fix the problem.

“And we also know this fall is going to be very important for the Affordable Care Act as millions prepare to finally get the coverage they need at a price that they could afford,” Jarrett said. “Though there are challenges that remain, and Rich and I were just talking about some of those challenges, we intend to work to solve those problems big and small and we are committed to sitting down in good faith and working on solutions.”

The AFL-CIO convention is set to officially open later on Sunday.

President Obama was set to speak to the convention on Monday, but canceled to focus the White House’s push for congressional approval of a military strike on Syria. Obama will now deliver a message to the convention via video.

Jarrett also paid thanks to labor, saying “you are us” to union officials.

“So as you go into the conference, I hope the message you will carry back home when you leave is the president and his administration are so firmly committed to working with you, to standing with you, because we care about you. You are us. You are the reason why the president got into politics in the first place as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago many, many years ago,” Jarrett said. “And even as a threat of a global crisis unfolds overseas, I want you to know that every single morning he wakes up with you and your families in his mind.”

Labor was a key constituency for Obama and Democrats last election, helping to turn out the vote. Unions again will be vital for the party in the 2014 campaign.