Peabody award–winning journalist Andrea Bernstein is Senior Editor for Politics & Policy for WNYC News. She has previously served as Metro Editor, Political Director, Director of Transportation Nation, and Senior Reporter.
Obama in Jeep Plant as Auto Jobs Drop
Friday, June 03, 2011 - 03:33 PM
(Transportation Nation) It can't be quite the punctuation the President wanted at the end of a week of full-court press on the auto-industry rebound. Manufacturers cut 5,000 jobs in the last month, including a drop of 3,400 jobs in the automobile sector.
If you check the White House chart from earlier in the week, you'll see that, basically since the bailouts, auto jobs have been on a steady march upwards. The White House has been all over that news this week -- V.P. Joe Biden gave the weekly address about it (the President was in Europe), the White House issued a report, and today the President was in Toledo.
So they can't be happy that today's jobs report shows auto numbers down, even though analysts are attributing that mainly to Japanese tsunami-related disruptions, and an economy stumbling as gas prices rise.
And yet, the President, fortifed by chili dogs, continued undaunted at the Chrysler Toledo Assembly complex. Here's the pool report from Toledo, followed by the Presidents' remarks. You can also check out the Republican National Committee Video on the bailout, essentially scoffing at the President's suggestion that Americans got their money back from the auto bailout.
"POTUS arrived from Rudy’s at the Chrysler Toledo Assembly complex at about 12:45 pm and toured the line for assembling the 2011 Jeep Wrangler, making several stops to watch mechanized assemblage of the Jeep’s front grill and its instrument panel. He was greeted respectfully rather than enthusiastically by the workers demonstrating for him, many wearing red-and-white company T-shirts. When he got to the end of his tour, he approached a woman in a red-and-white shirt that instead said “President OBAMA” next to another woman in a black Obama ’08 campaign T-shirt. “Those are nice shirts,” POTUS told them. The woman in the red “President OBAMA” shirt spun around to show the words on the back: “THANK YOU.” He wrapped her in a big hug.
"As he was leaving, a couple people asked to pose with him for a photo. Immediately, the other workers were hustling from the other points on the floor and pretty soon there was a group shot of at least two dozen people surrounding POTUS.
"Then he was off to the waiting audience about 100’ away for his open remarks."
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Thank you. Everybody, please have a seat. Please have a seat.
It is good to be back in Toledo. (Applause.) It is good to be with all of you. Now, for those of you who I’ve met up close, I just want you to know that I stopped by Rudy’s -- (laughter) -- had two hot dogs, two chili dogs with onions. So I’ve been looking for a mint backstage. (Laughter.) It tasted pretty good going down though.
It is wonderful to see you. We’ve got some outstanding public servants who are here who’ve been working hard on behalf of working Americans their entire careers. One of the finest senators that I know of, Senator Sherrod Brown, is in the house. (Applause.) Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur is in the house. (Applause.) Your mayor is in the house. Give him a big round of applause. (Applause.)
I just took a short tour of the plant and watched some of you putting the finishing touches on the Wrangler. Now, as somebody reminded, I need to call it the “iconic” Wrangler. (Laughter.) And that’s appropriate because when you think about what Wrangler has always symbolized. It symbolized freedom, adventure, hitting the open road, never looking back -- which is why Malia and Sasha will never buy one. (Laughter.) Until maybe they’re 35. (Laughter.) I don’t want any adventure for them.
I want to thank Jill for the kind introduction. Somebody on my staff asked Jill to describe herself in three words or less, and she said “hard working.” Hard working. And her entire family agreed. So she’s with the right team here at this plant because I know there are a lot of hard-working people here. And I am -- (applause) -- I’m proud of all of you. Jill was born and raised right here in Toledo. Her mother retired from this plant. Her stepfather retired from this plant. Her uncle still works at this plant. She met her husband at this plant. Now they have two children of their own, and her three-year-old wants to work at this plant. (Laughter.)
I don’t think her story is unique. I’m sure there are a lot of you who have similar stories of previous generations working for Chrysler. And this plant, or the earlier plant that used to -- that I guess is still right down the road, this is the economic rock of the community. You depend on it, and so do thousands of Americans. The Wrangler you build here directly supports 3,000 other jobs, with parts manufactured all across America. Doors from Michigan. Axles from Kentucky. Tires from Tennessee. And this plant indirectly supports hundreds of other jobs right here in Toledo. After all, without you, who’d eat at Chet’s or Inky’s or Rudy’s? Or who’d buy all those cold ones at Zinger’s? (Laughter and applause.) This guy right here? That’s the Zinger crew right there. (Laughter.) All right. What would be life like here in Toledo if you didn’t make these cars?
Now, two years ago, we came pretty close to finding out. We were still near the bottom of a vicious recession -- the worst that we’ve seen in our lifetimes -- and ultimately, that recession cost 8 million jobs. And it hit this industry particularly hard. So in the year before I took office, this industry lost more than 400,000 jobs. In the span of a few months, one in five American autoworkers got a pink slip. And two great American companies, Chrysler and GM, stood on the brink of liquidation.
Now, we had a few options. We could have followed the status quo and kept the automakers on life support by just giving them tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money, but never really dealing with the structural issues at these plants. But that would have just kicked the problem down the road.
Or we could have done what a lot of folks in Washington thought we should do, and that is nothing. We could have just let U.S. automakers go into an uncontrolled freefall. And that would have triggered a cascade of damage all across the country. If we let Chrysler and GM fail, plants like this would have shut down, then dealers and suppliers across the country would have shriveled up, then Ford and other automakers could have failed, too, because they wouldn’t have had the suppliers that they needed. And by the time the dominos stopped falling, more than a million jobs, and countless communities, and a proud industry that helped build America’s middle class for generations wouldn’t have been around anymore.
So in the middle of a deep recession, that would have been a brutal and irreversible shock to the entire economy and to the future of millions of Americans. So we refused to let that happen.
I didn’t run for President to get into the auto business –- I’ve got more than enough to do. I ran for President because too many Americans felt their dreams slipping away from them. That core idea of America –- that if you work hard, if you do right, if you’re responsible, that you can lead a better life and most importantly pass on a better life to your kids -- that American Dream felt like it was getting further and further out of reach.
Folks were working harder for less. Wages were flat while the cost of everything from health care to groceries kept on going up. And as if things weren’t hard enough, the bottom fell out of the economy in the closing weeks of that campaign back in 2008, so life got that much harder.
So I want everybody to understand, our task hasn’t just been to recover from the recession. Our task has been to rebuild the future on a stronger foundation than we had before to make sure that you can see your incomes and your savings rise again. And you can retire with security and respect again. And you can open doors of opportunity for your kids again. And we can live out the American Dream again. That's what we’re fighting for. (Applause.) That's what we’re fighting for.
So that’s what drives me every day as I step into the Oval Office. That’s why we stood by the American auto industry. It was about you -- your families, your jobs, your lives, your dreams -– making sure that we were doing everything possible to keep them within reach.
So we decided to do more than just rescue the industry from crisis. We decided to retool it for a new age. We said that if everyone involved was willing to take the tough steps and make the painful sacrifices that were needed to become competitive, then we’d invest in your future and the future of communities like Toledo; that we’d have your back.
So I placed my bet on you. I put my faith in the American worker. And I’ll tell you what -- I’m going to do that every day of the week, because what you’ve done vindicates my faith.
Today, all three American automakers are turning a profit. That hasn’t happened since 2004. Today, all three American automakers are gaining market share. That hasn’t happened since 1995. And today, I’m proud to announce the government has been completely repaid for the investments we made under my watch by Chrysler because of the outstanding work that you guys did. (Applause.) Because of you. (Applause.)
Chrysler has repaid every dime and more of what it owes the American taxpayer from the investment we made during my watch. And by the way, you guys repaid it six years ahead of schedule. (Applause.) And last night, we reached an agreement to sell the government’s remaining interest in the company. So, soon, Chrysler will be 100 percent in private hands. Early. Faster than anybody believed. (Applause.)
So I couldn’t be prouder of what you’ve done. And what's most important, all three American automakers are now adding shifts and creating jobs at the strongest rate since the 1990s. So far the auto industry has added 113,000 jobs over the past two years. In Detroit, Chrysler added a second shift at its Jefferson North plant. GM is adding a third shift at its Hamtramck plant for the first time ever. In Indiana, Chrysler is investing more than $1.3 billion in its Kokomo facilities. And across the country, GM plans to hire back every single one of its laid-off workers by the end of the year -- every single one.
And that makes a difference for everyone who depends on this industry. Companies like a small precision tooling manufacturer in Vandergrift, Pennsylvania, have brought back many of the employees they had laid off two years ago. Manufacturers from Michigan to Massachusetts are looking for new engineers to build advanced batteries for American-made electric cars. And obviously, Chet’s and Inky’s and Zinger’s, they’ll all have your business for some time to come -- especially those guys over there. (Laughter.)
So this industry is back on its feet, repaying its debts, gaining ground. Because of you, we can once again say that the best cars in the world are built right here in the U.S. of A., right here in Ohio, right here in the Midwest. (Applause.) And each day when you clock in, you’re doing more than earning your pay by churning out cars. You’re standing up for this company. You’re sticking up for this way of life. You’re scoring one for the home team and showing the world that American manufacturing and American industry is back.
Now, I don’t want to pretend like everything is solved. We’ve still got a long way to go not just in this industry, but in our economy; for all our friends, all our neighbors who are still feeling the sting of recession. There’s nobody here who doesn’t know someone who is looking for work and hasn’t found something yet. Even though the economy is growing, even though it’s created more than 2 million jobs over the past 15 months, we still face some tough times. We still face some challenges. This economy took a big hit. You know, it’s just like if you had a bad illness, if you got hit by a truck, it’s going to take a while for you to mend. And that’s what’s happened to our economy. It’s taking a while to mend.
And there are still some headwinds that are coming at us. Lately, it’s been high gas prices that have caused a lot of hardship for a lot of working families. And then you had the economic disruptions following the tragedy in Japan. You got the instability in the Middle East, which makes folks uncertain. There are always going to be bumps on the road to recovery. We’re going to pass through some rough terrain that even a Wrangler would have a hard time with. We know that.
THE PRESIDENT: A Wrangler can go over anything, huh? (Laughter.)
But you know what, we know what’s happened here. We know what’s possible when we invest in what works. And just as we succeeded in retooling this industry for a new age, we’ve got to rebuild this whole economy for a new age, so that the middle class doesn’t just survive, but it also thrives.
These are tight fiscal times. You guys have all heard about the deficit and the debt, and that demands that we spend wisely, cut everywhere that we can. We’ve got to live within our means. Everybody’s got to do their part. Middle-class workers like you, though, shouldn’t be bearing all the burden. You work too hard for someone to ask you to pay more so that somebody who’s making millions or billions of dollars can pay less. That’s not right. (Applause.)
And even though we’re in tough times, there are still some things that we’ve got to keep on doing if we’re going to win the future. We can’t just sit back and stop. We got business we got to do. We got to make sure that our schools are educating our kids so that they can succeed. I was looking at all the gizmos and gadgets you got in this plant here -- it’s a lot more complicated working on a plant than it used to be. Kids have to know math and science.
We got to have a transportation and communications network that allows our businesses to compete. We used to have the best roads, the best bridges, the best airports. In a lot of places we don’t have that anymore. If you go to China, Beijing, they’ve got a fancier airport. You go to Europe, they got fancier trains, better roads. We can’t let our infrastructure just crumble and fall apart. We’re American. We’ve got to make that investment. (Applause.)
We’ve got to invest in innovation that will pave the way for future prosperity. We invented stuff that the world now uses and the world now makes. We’ve got to keep on inventing stuff and make sure it’s made right here in America. And that requires investments. (Applause.) That requires investments in basic research and basic science.
So these are all things that will help America out-innovate, out-educate, out-compete, out-hustle everybody else in the world. I want America to win the future, and I want our future to be big and optimistic, not small and fearful.
So we’ve got a lot of hard work that’s left to do, Ohio. We’ve got a lot of work to do. But we’re going to get there. And if anybody tells you otherwise, I want you to remember the improbable turnaround that’s taken place here at Chrysler. I want you to remember all those folks who were -- all those voices who were saying no -- saying no, we can’t. Because, Toledo, you showed that this was a good investment, betting on America’s workers.
What we see here is a proud reminder that in difficult times, Americans, they dig deep, they recapture the toughness that makes us who we are –- builders and doers who never stop imagining a better future. What I see here is a reminder of the character that makes us great –- that we’re a people who will forge a better future because that's what we do. What I see here is an America that is resilient, an America that understands that when we come together, nobody can stop us.
So I’ll tell you what -– I’m going to keep betting on you. And as long as I continue to have the privilege of being the President of the United States, I’m going to keep fighting alongside you for a future that is brighter for this community, for Toledo, for Ohio, for America. Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)