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 Home > News & Policies > September 2003

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 1, 2003

President's Remarks on Labor Day
Ohio Operating Engineers
Richfield Training Center
Richfield, Ohio

11:12 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: I don't know about you, but we needed a little rain in Crawford. (Laughter.) Send it that way, if you don't mind. (Laughter.) Thank you so much for coming out on Labor Day. I appreciate -- I appreciate so many folks enduring the rain to say hello to the President. I am thrilled you are here, and I'm thrilled I'm here. (Applause.)

The working people of this country deserve a day off, and it looks like you're enjoying it. (Laughter.) I want you to know that I know the strength of the American economy comes from hardworking men and women. (Applause.) This country prospers because of people who give their best effort every day to support their families, to go to work, to make America a better place. One man who traveled with me today who understands this and who loves his country, is Mr. Frank Hanley. I'm proud to be traveling with him, and I know you're proud to have him as your president. (Applause.)

You know, it's interesting that it was union leaders who first suggested a day to honor America's workers. And I'm glad we do. And I'm proud to be here in Ohio with Ohio families celebrating Labor Day. I'm grateful to the Operating Engineers for hosting us today. (Applause.) This union -- this union represents men and women of great skill and great professional pride. (Applause.)

I want you to think back to that fateful day, September the 11th, and what happened afterwards. It was then that the whole world saw the skill and commitment and incredible work of the Operating Engineers who manned the heavy equipment to clear Ground Zero. (Applause.) You overcame unimaginable challenges; you removed the rubble in record time. You are now working to make sure America is prepared for any emergency, and this nation is grateful for your skill and your sacrifice. (Applause.)

We're also grateful to some other hardworking Americans who don't have the day off: the people of the United States military who are winning the war against terror. (Applause.) The war against terror goes on. It goes on because we love freedom and we're not going to change and our enemies hate freedom. It goes on because there are cold-blooded killers who have hijacked a religion. It goes on because we refuse to relent. (Applause.) And the best way to protect our homeland, the best way to make sure that we listen to the lessons of September the 11th, 2001, the best way to do our solemn duty to the American people is to chase the killers down, one by one, and bring them to justice. (Applause.)

And so on this Labor Day, when many have the day off, we thank our men and women who wear our uniform. We thank them and their families. We thank their sacrifice, and we want all of them to know, you make our nation proud. (Applause)

I appreciate our Secretary of Labor, Elaine Chao, for her hard work and her outreach to labor leaders all across the country. I want to thank Jim Gardner, the General Vice President and Business Manager of Local 18 for -- (applause) -- he's the host of this event. I want to thank Jim for setting up this beautiful site and for the weather. (Laughter.) I traveled today, as well, with Chuck Canterbury. He's the President of the Fraternal Order of Police. I appreciate you coming, Chuck. (Applause.) I want to thank those who wear our nation's uniform when it comes to providing police protection and fire protection. We appreciate your service. (Applause.)

I would like to remind people that a culture of responsibility is coming in America. One of the reasons why is that we see every day people who are willing to serve something greater than themself in life. Our children see heroes again, because they see policemen and women and firefighters and emergency teams and military personnel who sacrifice for something greater than themselves in life. And for all the officers who are with us today, I thank you for your line of service for America. (Applause.)

I want to thank Governor Bob Taft for greeting me at the airport today. I appreciate so very much two United States -- the two United States senators from the state of Ohio who are with me today, and I suspect may be looking for a ride back to Washington. (Laughter.) Senator George Voinovich and Senator Mike Dewine. (Applause.) Steve LaTourette and Ralph Regula, members of the House of Representatives, are with us today, as well, and I appreciate them coming. (Applause.) I mentioned Governor Taft, and Jennette Bradley, the Lieutenant Governor, is with us. Jim Trakas is with us, who is the Ohio State House Majority Leader. I want to thank all the local officials for coming out to say hello.

Today, I want to talk about our economy. I want people to understand that when somebody wants to work and can't find a job, it says we've got a problem in America that we're going to deal with. We want everybody in this country working. We want people to be able to realize their personal dreams -- (applause) -- by finding a job. We've got a lot of strengths in this economy. One of the greatest strengths, of course, is the work force. We've got the best workers in the world. (Applause.) We're the most productive workers in the entire world. (Applause.) Productivity is up. What productivity means is that we've got a lot of hard work and we're using new technologies to make people more effective when it comes to the job, and that's important.

You see, in 1979, it took more than 40 hours of labor to make a car, and now it takes 18 hours. We're productive. Our workers are really productive in America. Higher productivity not only means we can produce better products, but it means our people are better off. The more productive you are, the better off our workers are. You see, it's better to operate a backhoe than it is a shovel. (Applause.) That's what we mean by productivity. Higher productivity means that workers earn more. And it means it takes less time for workers to earn the money to buy the things they need.

In 1908, the average factory worker had to labor for more than two years to buy a Model-T -- more than two years of work to buy a car. Today, you can buy a family vehicle for about seven months of salary. The higher the productivity rates, the better it is for American workers. We're a productive nation because of the good, hardworking Americans. And that's what we're here to celebrate today.

You know, I also want you to focus on what we have overcome. I mean, we're a strong nation. We've got great foundations for growth, and we've overcome a lot as a country over the last couple of years. In early 2000, the stock market started to decline. That affects you. It affects your savings, it affects your pension accounts. It was a forerunner of the recession that came. The first quarter of 2001, we were in recession. But we acted to come out of that recession. We acted with tax relief. And it created big noise and big debate in Washington. But here's what I believe and here is what I know. When you've got more money in your pocket, it means you're going to spend or save and invest. And when you spend and save or invest, somebody is going to produce a product for you to be able to spend your money on. When somebody produces a product, it's more likely somebody is going to be able to find a job. Tax relief was needed to stem the recession. (Applause.)

They tell me it was a shallow recession. It was a shallow recession because of the tax relief. Some say, well, maybe the recession should have been deeper. That bothers me when people say that. You see, a deeper recession would have meant more families would have been out of work. I'm interested in solving problems quickly. I want more people working.

No, we did the right thing with tax relief. And we were beginning to pull out when the terrorists hit us. And they struck us hard. It cost our American economy about $80 billion. The attack of September the 11th had a high price tag to it. That's the equivalent of wiping out about one-fifth of Ohio's economy. But we acted. Not only did we go on the offensive with a mighty and skilled military; we did some things to keep our people back at work.

And one of the things that the Operating Engineers know we did -- and I want to thank Frank for working with us -- is that we fought for terrorism reinsurance, to make sure big construction projects stayed on schedule. We worked to preserve thousands of jobs for America's construction workers, because we want people working in America. We want people to put food on the table. We want moms and dads to be able to do their duty as a mom or a dad.

And so we began to recover from the terrorist attacks, and then we found out some of the citizens, some of the corporate CEOs forgot what it means to be a responsible American. They forgot to do their duty. They didn't tell the truth to their shareholders and their employees. So we acted. We passed two new tough laws. And now the message is clear: if you don't tell the truth, there is going to be serious consequences. We expect the best out of corporate America. (Applause.)

And yet the economy was still bumping along. We hadn't recovered from all the challenges, and so we passed tax relief again. I called upon Congress to pass the jobs and growth package, and we lowered taxes once again to create jobs. When you reduce taxes, people have more money. And I'm going to remind you of what we did. If you're a mom or a dad, we increased the child credit to $1,000 per child, and we put the checks in the mail -- $400 additional per child for American families, so you get to decide to do with the money. It's your choice. You see, after all, in Washington we don't spend the government's money; we spend your money. (Applause.)

We reduced the marriage penalty. What kind of tax code is it that discourages marriage? (Laughter.) We want to encourage marriage. We gave incentives to small businesses so that they can hire more people. We reduced taxes on capital gains and dividends to protect your savings accounts. We want the pension plans strong. We want the 401k's doing well. We reduced all taxes. We thought it was fairer not to try to pick and choose winners. If you pay taxes, you deserve relief. Three million people are now off the tax rolls; 3.9 million households received tax relief.

No, we're making a difference. And the economy is beginning to grow, and that's what i'm interested in. I come with an optimistic message. I believe there are better days ahead for people who are working and looking for work. Economic output is rising faster than expected. Low interest rates mean that families can save billions by refinancing their homes. I bet some of you have refinanced your homes. Put a little extra money into your pocket. Consumer spending is on the rise. Companies are seeing more orders, especially orders for heavy equipment.

No, things are getting better. But there are some things we've got to do to make sure the economy continues to grow. I want you to understand that I understand that Ohio manufactures are hurting, that there's a problem with the manufacturing sector. And I understand for a full recovery, to make sure people can find work, that manufacturing must do better. And we've lost thousands of jobs in manufacturing, some of it because of productivity gains -- in other words, people can have the same output with fewer people -- but some of it because production moved overseas.

So I told Secretary Don Evans of the Commerce Department, I want him to appoint an assistant secretary to focus on the needs of manufacturers, to make sure our manufacturing job base is strong and vibrant. In other words, any part of a good recovery for the state of Ohio and other manufacturing states has got to be for the manufacturing sector to come around. One way to make sure that we -- the manufacturing sector does well is to send a message overseas -- say, look, we expect there to be a fair playing field when it comes to trade. See, we in America believe we can compete with anybody, just so long as the rules are fair, and we intend to keep the rules fair. (Applause.)

We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move. And that's why we've signed extensions to the unemployment insurance, so people can get their feet back on the ground. Elaine's department, the Department of Labor, passes out emergency grants for people who are hurting to cover health care costs and child care costs and other critical needs. And that's a useful role for the government.

I proposed to Congress a new idea to help people get back to work, particularly those that had the hardest time finding work. We call them reemployment accounts. I proposed spending $3.6 billion to help a million Americans find work. We'd write -- put some money aside for somebody to use for day care or retraining, to be able to move. If they're able to find a job in a prescribed period of time, they'd be able to keep the difference between what we gave them to begin with and what was unspent. In other words, a reemployment bonus. It's a novel approach to help a million Americans who are having a tough time finding work to find work. Reemployment accounts make sense. Congress needs to act.

We've also got to make sure that our people get the right skills. Listen, technology changes. I understand that. You know that. We want our people to be trained, to keep up with new technology, just like they do right here. I want to thank the Operating Engineers. (Applause.) I want to thank Frank for his leadership. I want to thank the local leaders for their leadership and understanding that in order for a man or woman to stay up, there needs to be retraining opportunities. As our economy changes, people need to be retrained. The Operating Engineers do a great job right here of helping people. (Applause.) That's all the worker wants, is to be helped, be given the skills necessary to realize his or her dreams.

The high-growth job training initiative in this administration is aiming just to do that. It's a collaborative effort with community colleges to help team up people with the jobs that are needed, to make sure that the changes in our economy don't leave people behind. And education can help a lot and we're going to continue to stay focused on education in this administration. We not only want our little ones to be able to read and write and add and subtract, we want to make sure the older ones have a change to realize the opportunities of tomorrow, as well. And we will.

And finally, I want to talk about another issue right quick -- or two other issues right quick. One of them is this country needs an energy policy. (Applause.) If you rely upon a manufacturing base for job employment, you need energy. We need a policy. I've been talking about this for a couple of years. Congress needs to get me an energy bill. You learned firsthand what it means to have a -- what it means to modernize the electricity grid, if you know what I mean. (Laughter.) The grid needs to be modernized.

First, we need to find out -- and will find out -- what went wrong, why you had your electricity shut down out here. But we ought to use this as an opportunity to modernize the system. They used to have -- in the law they had -- they said these electricity deliverers could have voluntary reliability standards. We don't need voluntary reliability standards, we need mandatory reliability standards. (Applause.) We want to make sure there's incentives for people to put new poles in the ground and invest.

The energy sector has been hamstrung by old laws. We need new laws. And I've been calling on Congress to do this. And when they get back, they need to stop politicking and get a good energy plan, so that we can make sure the economy continues to grow. (Applause.)

I'll tell you what else we need to do. We need to use our technologies to be able to explore for energy in environmentally friendly ways. For the sake of national security, for the sake of economic security, we need to become less dependent on foreign sources of energy. (Applause.)

A sound energy policy makes sense. And so does good highway policy. We proposed increases over the last six years. These highway bills come in six-year increments -- I proposed $30 billion more spending on highways over the next six, and the last six. We not only want to make sure our people can find jobs and work, like the people pushing this big equipment around -- but we want people driving on better roads. (Applause.) We want to be able to deal with congestion so we can get our people moving around.

There's a lot we can do. We've done a lot to lay the foundation for economic growth. And there's a lot we can do when Congress gets back to make sure that this economic recovery continues so that people can find work. On Labor Day, we're committed to helping those who have got a job keep a job, and committed to those who are looking for work to find a job. That's the commitment of this Labor Day. (Applause.)

We're also committed to our freedom and to peace. And we will stay on the offensive to protect our freedom. And we will stay with the notion that the more free societies are, the more peaceful they become. See, we love freedom and we love peace in America, and we intend to make the world a more peaceful place. This country will lead the world to peace. (Applause.)

I really enjoy coming out and seeing people bring their kids out. I want to thank you for bringing them. It reminds me of one of the things that's happening in our country. It's a new spirit in America. There's a cultural change taking place, it seems like to me, and that is, we're getting away from the era that said, it feels good, just go ahead and do it, and if you've got a problem, blame somebody else -- to an era where in which each of understands we're responsible for the decisions we make in life.

If you're a mom or a dad, if you're lucky enough to be a parent, you're responsible for loving your child with all your heart and all your soul. That's your job. (Applause.) If you're worried about the quality of education in the neighborhood in which you live, you're responsible for doing something about it. As I mentioned, if you happen to be a CEO in Corporate America, you're responsible for telling the truth, you're responsible for treating your employees with respect. If you're an American in the responsibility era, you're responsible for loving a neighbor like you'd like to be loved yourself.

I want to thank those of you who reach out to somebody who hurts, somebody in need. You see, the great strength of the country is not our military might or economic prowess, the great strength of the country is the heart and soul of the American people. Millions of acts of kindness and decency go on on a daily basis. Millions of acts of decency and kindness help define the true worth and the true strength of this great American country.

And so on Labor Day, a day in which we honor the worker, let us honor those who work to make our society and country a more compassionate place by helping a neighbor in need, by doing your job as a citizen of the country, by being a patriotic person, which means more than just putting your hand over your heart. It means serving your country in ways large and small, all aimed at lifting up this nation, all aimed at keeping us the greatest nation on the face of the Earth.

May God bless you all, and may God continue to bless America. (Applause.) Thank you all. (Applause.)

END 11:38 A.M. EDT