Obama, unions avoid areas of tension

President Obama has done a lot of things to anger labor unions in the last few weeks, but those items weren't on the agenda when Obama met with the heads of several unions Friday afternoon.

AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said the union representatives and Obama did not discuss the U.S.-South Korea free-trade agreement or the tax-cut deal Obama signed after the meeting that unions vehemently opposed.

The White House said the meeting lasted for more than an hour, and both sides said the focus was on working together to create jobs.

Unions have joined other Democratic groups in voicing their disappointment with recent moves Obama has made, including the Korea trade deal, the tax cuts package and Obama's decision to freeze pay for federal workers.

But apparently on Friday, the two sides called a truce, leaving the dicey areas of contention at the door. Trumka told reporters, “The president and each one of us have stated our positions on a number of those things.”

“We didn't talk about any of those things,” Trumka said. “We talked about how we can create jobs. That's what we did."

And the White House said in a readout of the meeting that "the group talked about creating good jobs for the American people and how the partnership with labor is essential to growing our economy and continuing our recovery."

Obama did reiterate “his commitment to working in partnership with the labor community as we tackle these challenges, along with his support for policies that protect working Americans and support the rights of workers to organize and collectively bargain.”

Another meeting attendee, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, told  The Hill that Obama repeated that “labor is part of the solution, and that’s a good message.”

Like Trumka and the White House, Van Roekel said the two sides avoided their areas of disagreement.

“As we went in there, what we hoped to do was not to look backwards but really look forward on how do we work together,” Van Roekel said.

Instead, job creation was the meeting’s primary focus.

“We have to get this unemployment rate down. … There is just too many people in America who are hurting,” Van Roekel said.

To reduce the jobless rate, Trumka said layoffs of state and local government workers need to be avoided. He also talked about putting together a long-term infrastructure program that could bring in more construction jobs and help repair America’s crumbling roads and highways.

“We make a long-term commitment to infrastructure, crowd in private money,” Trumka said. “Hopefully, we can get the infrastructure bank up and running that can facilitate that and we're in business.”