Herman Potter, President of the United Steelworkers Local 689 that serves the Piketon project site, says he didn’t hear what he had hoped to hear when he attended Tuesday night’s State Ofthe Union Address by President Obama.
Invited to attend the event by U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Potter was complimentary of the senator and other members of the Ohio delegation.
“I consider him (Portman) a friend to our site,” Potter said. “It was a tremendous honor. I respect the senator, as I do all the Ohio delegation. We are very lucky because not all states have that strong of support.”
However, Potter says the president’s speech did not come up to his expectations as a labor leader.
“I heard a lot of idealistic ideas – good things like we’re going to have people be able to work for 30 years with the kind of benefits program and things like that. I heard statements that he wants to have everybody work together and stop throwing jabs at each other politically – I heard all that,” Potter said. “But I really didn’t hear anything of any substance. A lot of good idealistic statements but not a lot of substance and I wish the president would have gone out and said some very strong things as far as what he would like for Congress to do or what he is going to do specifically, some things like that.”
Potter said thje president is a “very good speaker” and he listened intently when the president talked about the U.S. being a leader in the world. But he said he was listening for something that would have been encouraging since the Department of Energy’s announcement that they were shutting down the ACP project at Piketon and thus shutting off any domestic source of enriched uranium.
“But clearly the administration has not showed any commitment towards the American Centrifuge Project and we’re still going to have layoffs,” Potter said. “I wish he could have said something a little bit strong with more substance. He could have come out and said – ‘hey, we’re going to pursue the technology and protect our country by developing a domestic source of enriched uranium.’ That would have been much better than what he said.”
Has organized labor made progress during the Obama administration?
“It’s a kind of mixed bag,” Potter said. “(He did well) speaking from the area of labor – dealing with some foreign trade with steel and rubber and things like that, but with the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement, I don’t know whether that’s going to help us (labor). I know that for our site, and that’s who I have responsibility for, this administration has hurt us because of some of the decisions they have made.”
He said he does not put all the blame on the president, that Congress has to assume some of the blame as well, “although lately Congress has been very good about making sure of our funding, but it seems like they haven’t put a really strong effort into the reindustrialization of the site. Frankly the president talked about missions and goals, but what is a better mission than industrialization of the Portsmouth site and utilizing the infrastructure in order to build things and grow – that’s a vision.”
Potter said there is too much energy put toward just keeping the plant operating from year to year.
“With the Centrifuge Project, if it ultimately goes away, there is no guarantee that we’re going to have any industrialization, so it’s kind of a mixed bag,” Potter said. “In my world I have a hard time understanding it and I know my world pretty well, my world, in the area of labor has been very difficult since I’ve been president, since the transition beginning in 2011.”
Potter also spoke of the president’s agreements including the one with Iran.
“The agreement on the Iranian deal – I don’t know all the details of that – but from the surface it looks like that would be terrible for us,” Potter said. “It kind of upset me a little bit when that deal was made.”
Potter continues to be complimentary of Portman.
“I really appreciated the senator inviting me to go. He gave me the opportunity to talk to some people who were not directly related to our site or state and gave me the opportunity to thank them for their help which matters to our site,” Potter said. “I hope that I conveyed how much I appreciate all the work that went into the funding of the site.”
Potter echoed the relationship.
“Herman is a friend and a steadfast partner in the fight to save jobs at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon, Ohio,” Portman stated. “I’m pleased that he is able to join me for the State of the Union and look forward to continuing to work closely together for the critically important work being done in Piketon.”
Portman’s opponent, Scioto County native and former Ohio governor, Ted Strickland said Portman has been disingenuous about the Piketon funding.
“Before the Omnibus Bill (funding Piketon projects) was passed, he (Portman) sent out 14 news releases taking credit for things he had gotten in that bill,” Strickland said. “And he ended up voting against it. It seems a little disingenuous of him to take credit for something he voted against. If his vote had carried the day there wouldn’t even be any money in that bill as I understand it for the Piketon plant at all.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.