President Obama invoked New England Patriots Quarterback Tom Brady in his Labor Day speech Monday to argue that everyone needs unions to protect them in the workplace.
"Even Brady's happy he's got a union! They had his back. So you know if Brady needs a union, we definitely need unions," the president said.
A judge recently lifted a four-game suspension the NFL imposed on Brady in response to a scandal over deflated footballs. The NFL Players Association is the union that fought to overturn the suspension.
Mr. Obama marked the holiday with a speech at the Greater Boston Labor Council Labor Day Breakfast. On the way to the speech, he signed an executive order that will require federal contractors to earn up to seven days of paid sick leave each year. The president said the move will offer paid sick leave to 300,000 people who currently receive no paid leave for an illness, and it will expand the amount of paid sick leave for other workers.
As he praised cities and companies that have led the way in expanding their paid leave policies, the president slammed Republicans in Washington and some of the GOP's 2016 presidential candidates for "wrecking the economy for a long time" by trying to limit workers' rights.
"In their world the only way to help the country grow and to help people get ahead is to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires, loosen up rules on big banks and polluters, and then you just wait and you look up at the sky and prosperity will come raining down on us from the top of the whatever high rise is in your city," the president said.
Without naming names, Mr. Obama called out three Republican candidates in particular: Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who "is bragging about how he destroyed collective bargaining rights in his state and says that busting unions prepares him to fight [the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria];" Carly Fiorina, who has blamed unions for the gender pay gap; and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who said that a union "deserves a punch in the face."
"They oppose raising the minimum wage, they're doing everything they can to bust unions, and then they want to claim to be the party of the American worker," he said.
That's not to say he wishes he were running again. As he referenced the start of the 2016 campaign season, Mr. Obama said, "I'm so glad I'm not in the ballot."
The president also called on Republicans in Washington to pass a budget by the end of the month to avert a government shutdown, a move he said would be "an unforced error" or "a ground ball slipping through somebody's legs," a reference to a famous flub by former Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner.
"You guys have won a couple since that time so I can make that joke," Mr. Obama said as the audience sounded its displeasure. "If you hadn't had so many World Series wins I wouldn't make that joke." Still, he may have struck a sore spot in Boston, since the Red Sox are currently in last place in their division.
The president said he would sign a budget that did away with the mandatory spending cuts in the sequester and invested in families and military readiness, but he complained that Republicans are threatening to shut down the government over things that have nothing to do with the budget (some members of the GOP want to cut off federal funds to Planned Parenthood in the next budget).
Earlier Monday, Vice President Biden delivered a fiery speech in Pittsburgh where he railed against what he says is an unfair tax code that allows the wealthy to avoid paying their fair share. He also praised unions for securing things like the 40-hour work week and paid sick leave for American workers.
"You built the middle class. That's not an exaggeration," Biden said of unions. "And as you've declined, the middle class has declined, so there's a simple correlation. Build labor, we build America. Build labor, we build the middle class."