Workers Have Advice for President Obama

20130517_132819_resizedDuncan McTaggart regarded President Barack Obama from 15 feet behind him on the stage. The president delivered a speech to Duncan’s co-workers, his congressional representatives, Baltimore’s mayor, and Maryland’s governor at Baltimore’s Ellicott Dredges plant, one of the oldest dredging equipment companies in the world. McTaggart had just finished introducing Obama to the crowd. Not many Catonsville, Md., residents can say they’ve done that.

McTaggert was notified just two days before the president’s appearance that he’d been chosen to give the introduction. His employer, Ellicott Dredges, was already in the throes of preparing for the presidential visit as part of Obama’s Jobs and Opportunities Tour. It was a big deal for the company to bring  Obama in to speak. Company employees worked frantic 16-hour days to move machinery and equipment around so that there would be space to hold the event.

McTaggart believes he was chosen because he was the administrator for a government grant intended to improve their machine shop. The president toured the facility, which has been manufacturing dredges for more than a century, and saw the new equipment Ellicott was able to acquire as a result of the grant — part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

On stage, Obama’s focus on reigniting a thriving middle class received a warm welcome from the crowd of about 500 people. As he proudly ticked off indicators of his administrations economic accomplishments (shrinking deficits, healing housing markets, booming American energy, thriving auto industry, etc.), he was cognizant of the areas still needing attention and improvement.  Obama said corporate profits are at an all-time high, but families “haven’t seen their take-home pay rise for nearly a decade … It’s good that companies are profitable. I want you to be profitable. I want you to be taking a little more home in your paycheck.”

He highlighted three areas of focus to help that happen:

  1. Making America a magnet for good jobs,
  2. Giving workers the education and skills needed to do those jobs
  3. Ensuring that working hard leads to a decent living.

Ellicott Dredges struck him as a great example to follow to achieve these goals. Obama praised them for having “a set of core values … [that has] seen you through an era of enormous change.” He was moved by their impulse to “grow not just a business, but a community, and by doing that … growing our country.” He was impressed with the quality of the machines, the hustle of the workforce, the vision of their leaders and their products being sold in more than 100 countries.

McTaggert agrees, and is proud of his work there. He thinks Obama learned a lot during his visit. The president asked many questions of the workers he met. Touring Ellicott Dredges demonstrated up close that manufacturing in this country is vital.

McTaggart believes that when people think of manufacturing  many visualize big hulking shells of factories — empty of employees and full of outdated machinery. That couldn’t be further from the truth, and McTaggart was happy Obama was seeing first-hand how modern their plant is and how they’ve put their grant money to good use. He was pleased to see the president getting his hands dirty and seeing the facts. “That’s what it’s all about,” said McTaggart. “The president has got to be in touch with manufacturing. If he really wants to support jobs, he’s got to do this stuff.”

In his speech, President Obama pledged to help “these kinds of success stories take root all across the country … [by boosting] our efforts to help businesses export more of their goods and services.” To that end, he claimed that exports are at an all-time high, and that more than a million export-supported jobs have been added since he took office.

He wants to keep the efforts going by focusing on rebuilding infrastructure — roads, bridges, airports and ports. He held up Ellicott Dredges, a company that built dredges that  helped dig the Panama Canal, as an example. “[It] literally helped create our global economy, because that was one of the first connectors that started to allow us to ship goods and cut the distances that integrated the world economy.”

When asked about lessons learned from being at the same company for so long, Obama quoted Ellicott Dredges’ 50-yeard employee Myrna LaBarre — “ ‘Be honest, be helpful, accept your mistakes and improve upon them, be good to people, keep a good sense of humor, have the best work ethic possible, and handle the good times and get over the bad.’ ” The president stressed that this recipe for success truly represents who we are. “That pretty much sums up everything. That’s who we like to understand America to be, who we are as Americans.”

McTaggart was thrilled to hear the president focus on LaBarre’s words. His children, 17-year-old Brendan and 15-year-old Andrea, sat beside him on the stage, and he wanted to tell them to listen. Then he said with a laugh that he decided against it because he thought, “If you’re 15 feet away from the President of the United States and you needed to be told to listen to him, you have bigger problems.”

“It is this simple. Life can be this simple. Be true to some very basic ideas. To have that espoused across all walks of life as if it’s truly a common goal is brilliant,” McTaggart said.

McTaggart added, “I would thank [the president] because … Obama really believes in helping people and is coming from the right place. I get a sense that he’s in this for the right reason and is really doing his best. I don’t think I can do any better given the realities of inheriting an office with a massive recession and a couple of wars. [Probably] 95 percent of his attention is taken up with things out of his control, and he’s really passionately pursuing making a difference. Doing something to make things better. To help people, and I’m not being eloquent, but there’s no eloquence there because it’s pure idealism. He needs to be thanked.”

Aliza Worthington grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and now lives in Baltimore. She began writing in 2009 at the age of 40. Sometimes her writing follows The Seinfeld Model of “no learning, no hugging.” Other times it involves lots of both. She blogs about Life, Liberty and Happiness at “The Worthington Post.” Her work also appears in Catonsville PatchKveller, and has been featured in the Community Spotlight section of Daily Kos under the username “Horque.” Her writing has also landed in the “Winner’s Circle” on Midlife Collage twice. Follow her on Twitter at @AlizaWrites.

Image via Aliza Worthington with permission

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