Obama: US must ‘strengthen unions’

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President Obama said Tuesday that the U.S. "should do everything we can to strengthen unions in this country" after decades of waning influence.

During a manufacturing town hall in Pittsburgh, Obama credited labor unions for helping to build the middle class.

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"Weekends and overtime and benefits — things that now, non-union workers take for granted — well, you got those because unions were out there fighting for you for a very long time," Obama said.

The president acknowledged that "unions have been back on their heels over the last several decades." He said globalization, technology and the declining costs of transportation gave them “less leverage” and led to fewer unionized private sector jobs.

Obama said union laborers paid for their increased wages and benefits with "skills, reliability, [and] productivity."

But he also encouraged labor "to be flexible" and "recognize that if you're working for a company, that that company has to have a bottom line."

"They're competing against nonunion labor as well," Obama said.

While the president was buoyed in his election and reelection campaigns by the support of organized labor, the White House has also seen some high-profile disagreements with union leaders emerge in recent months.

Union groups have pressured the president to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, a controversial project that would create thousands of union construction jobs but has been decried by environmental activists. 

Labor has also blasted a pair of free-trade agreements the administration is attempting to push through Congress, and complained that ObamaCare is designed in a way that penalizes union health plans.

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