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And I'm Melissa Block.
These have not been bright times, to say the least, in the industrial Midwest. And that's where President Obama headed today for a pair of speeches. In Lordstown, Ohio, he told autoworkers at a General Motors assembly plant that the economic recovery is starting to take hold, even though there's a long way to go. Then it was an all-out pep rally in Pittsburgh with a group whose support is key to Mr. Obama: the AFL-CIO.
NPR's Don Gonyea was there for both speeches.
DON GONYEA: President Obama stood on a small stage on the factory floor of General Motor's massive Lordstown assembly plant this morning. They build the high-mileage Chevy Cobalt here. Like all GM factories, this one's future was in doubt after the financial crisis sent the company's fortunes plummeting. In the summer of 2008, Lordstown had 4,000 workers. Then the layoffs began. The plant was working three shifts, then two, then just one. But the president today said the government help for GM and the Cash for Clunkers program have had a huge impact.
President BARACK OBAMA: A hundred and fifty of your co-workers came back to work yesterday.
(Soundbite of cheering)
Pres. OBAMA: More than 1,000 will be coming back to work in less than three weeks as production of the Cobalt ramps up.
(Soundbite of cheering)
GONYEA: It was the president offering a vigorous defense of his economic policies as a counterweight to growing criticism from Republicans. Just a few hours later, Mr. Obama was at the Pittsburgh Convention Center for the AFL-CIO national convention.
Pres. OBAMA: Yeah, I tell you what. You know, the White House is pretty nice, but there's nothing like being back in the house of labor.
GONYEA: The president acknowledged the frustrations and discontent polls show Americans have as they deal with the effects of a prolonged recession.
Pres. OBAMA: I know too many people are still looking for work or worried they'll be the next ones let go. But the recovery act is making a difference. We've stopped our economic freefall.
GONYEA: Members of labor unions were an important part of the ground operation that helped Mr. Obama win the presidency. They are also among his most aggressive supporters of the call for an overhaul of the nation's health care system. Today, he spoke of what even union members with good health care plans stand to gain from reform. He cited a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation showing that health premiums for families rose three times faster than wages over the last decade.
Pres. OBAMA: Which is why, when you go in and negotiate, you can't even think about negotiating for a salary - a wage increase, because the whole negotiation is about trying to keep the benefits you already have.
GONYEA: The president energized this crowd. Among them, 31-year-old Matt Ellenberger, a union painter from Clarion, Pennsylvania.
(Soundbite of convention)
Mr. MATT ELLENBERGER (Painter): Absolutely. You got to rally the troops again, get us back to where he was before, back to candidate Obama and rally us the way he did whenever he was a candidate. Get back on the ground running, and that's what he's doing now.
GONYEA: Ellenberger says it's a part of the fight the president can't overlook as he deals with Congress. Mr. Obama has another big health care rally later in the week at the University of Maryland.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, Pittsburgh.
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