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Obama Meets with Union Leaders On Tax Cuts

President Barack Obama gestures while speaking during a visit to Forsyth Technical Community College in Winston-Salem, N.C., Monday, Dec. 6, 2010.
AP
After business executives had their turn at the White House, President Barack Obama is giving a shot to union leaders fuming over the tax bill he intended to sign a few hours after Friday's meeting.

The deal with congressional Republicans included a union-sought extension of jobless benefits, but passage came "at a terrible price," said the AFL-CIO president's Richard Trumka.

Trumka criticized the extension of Bush-era tax rates for the highest wage-earners, arguing that money could have been used to invest in the creation of jobs.

The White House has been concerned about the harsh criticism from union leaders, and the meeting was seen as an effort to get the relationship back on track. The focus was expected to be jobs and the economy.

Obama's ties with business leaders have been punctuated by sharp acrimony over issues such as health care, bonus pay and financial regulations. His standing with labor is bolstered by the long link between union leaders and the Democratic Party.

Union officials are expected to be blunt about their unhappiness over the tax deal, a recent trade agreement with South Korea and the failure to pass a measure that would help firefighters, police and other emergency workers gain collective bargaining rights.

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The trade deal has received support from the United Auto Workers because of provisions regarding auto exports.

Union leaders also have complained about the president's proposal to freeze pay for federal workers and plans for a tax system overhaul outlined by Obama's deficit commission. Unions, for example, are interested in preserving the tax exclusion for employer provided health benefits.

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the meeting represents Obama's efforts to hear various points of view on how to speed up the economic recovery and increase jobs. In addition to his more than four-hour meeting with CEOs on Wednesday, Obama held separate talks with a group of liberal economists and conservative economists.

Expected to attend the meeting in addition to Trumka are United Food and Commercial Workers President Joe Hansen, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel, United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President Gerald McEntee, Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry, UAW President Bob King, International Association of Fire Fighters President Harold Schaitberger, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers President Ed Hill, National Association of Letter Carriers President Fred Rolando, and International Union of Painters and Allied Trades President Jimmy Williams.