While running for president in 2007, Barack Obama promised that he would protect unions' collective bargain rights.
"If American workers are being denied their right to organize when I'm in the White House, I will put on a comfortable pair of shoes and I will walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States," then Illinois Sen. Obama said in Spartanburg, S.C., on Nov. 3, 2007.
We checked in with multiple unions and the White House and found no evidence that Obama physically walked with picketers.
He could have marched with picketers in Wisconsin but instead just voiced his support. Union workers protested a 2011 state law, Act 10, that crippled public-sector unions that helped make Republican Gov. Scott Walker a national political figure.
"Some of what I've heard coming out of Wisconsin, where they're just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain generally, seems like more of an assault on unions," Obama told a Wisconsin television reporter Feb. 16., 2011. "I think everybody's got to make some adjustments, but I think it's also important to recognize that public employees make enormous contributions to our states and our citizens."
The National Labor Relations Board does not apply to public workers -- their collective bargaining rights are governed by state law, said University of Minnesota history professor William P. Jones. (He was at the University of Wisconsin during the Act 10 battle and is working on a book about public sector unions.)
So while Obama could have marched with the Wisconsin workers, "he would have been criticizing a state law, which presidents are often reluctant to do," Jones said.
There are other examples of Obama's administration siding with unions, even if he did not literally walk the walk.
A White House spokeswoman pointed to three executive orders by Obama to support workers' collective bargaining rights. These included an order that required federal contractors to post written notice of their employees' rights (such as to collective bargaining), another prohibiting contractors from spending federal money on union avoidance, and one requiring prospective contractors to disclose labor law violations.
Also, in February 2011, the administration granted approximately 45,000 Transportation Security Administration employees the right to bargain collectively -- a right they did not have before. Obama also sought to strengthen the National Labor Relations Board, and his Democratic appointments to the board issued several rulings that favored unions.
The NLRB ruled in favor of two key groups to collectively bargain: subcontractors and graduate students at private universities, Jones said.
Jones said Obama's moves may have been more quiet than the president actually walking a picket line, but they had a bigger impact.
"While he did not walk a picket line, his administration did strengthen collective bargaining rights," he said.
But Obama didn't take every opportunity to strengthen those rights, said Georgetown history professor Joseph McCartin, an expert on U.S. labor.
Obama didn't support the Model Employer Executive Order that would have required federal contractors to respect the rights of their employees to bargain collectively.
"In short, Obama did more to support collective bargaining than any president in recent decades, but the bar had not been set high by his recent predecessors," McCartin said. "Ultimately his support for collective bargaining was never full-throated or unstinting."
Obama's administration took some pro-labor steps. But when Obama had the chance to show up and "walk on that picket line with you as president of the United States" — which would have been a powerful symbol — he did not take it when he had the chance in Wisconsin, going through with a pre-arranged interview instead.
We rate this Promise Broken.