Obama acts to aid unions

On yet another morning of grim economic news, President Obama on Friday sought to further distance himself from his predecessor as he announced steps that he said would improve the lot of middle-class Americans and strengthen organized labor.

At a White House ceremony, the president signed three executive orders that he said would “reverse many of the policies towards organized labor that we've seen these last eight years, policies with which I've sharply disagreed.”

Following up on his condemnation Thursday of “shameful” bonuses for Wall Street bankers, Obama seized on the latest economic numbers to push yet again for enactment of his $800 billion-plus economic stimulus package. He and Vice President Joe Biden spoke not long after the nation's gross domestic product reflected its greatest contraction in a quarter-century.

“So this is a difficult moment,” Obama said, “but I believe if we act boldly and swiftly it can be an American moment, when we work through our differences together and overcome our divisions to face this crisis.”

The orders he signed, which union officials say will undo Bush administration policies that tilted toward employers, would require federal contractors to offer jobs to current workers when contracts change, and would make it more difficult for federal contractors to discourage union activities.

In addition, Biden, who will chair a previously announced task force, said the first meeting to “bring together those Cabinet members who have the greatest impact on the well-being of the middle class” would be Feb. 27 in Philadelphia. The task force will look at issues as diverse as health care and college opportunities, Biden said, and will also focus on “restoring the balance in the work place.”

The executive director of the task force will be Jared Bernstein, a prominent liberal economist who has been writing a study on the impact of Obama's stimulus plan.

The administration has set up a Web site, AStrongMiddle, that Biden said would tell people what their government is doing and invite them to share their thoughts.