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Obama berates Wall Street bonuses

UNITED States President Barack Obama lashed out at Wall Street, saying it was shameful that employees were paid more than US$18 billion in bonuses while their crumbling financial sector received a historic bailout from American taxpayers.

Obama was responding to reports on Thursday that Wall Street executives were paid billions in bonuses last year as Congress poured hundreds of billions into the financial system to address an economy reeling from souring debt, defaulting mortgages and choked lending.

With new Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at his side, the president said the payouts were "the height of irresponsibility."

"It is shameful," Obama said. "And part of what we're going to need is for the folks on Wall Street who are asking for help to show some restraint, and show some discipline, and show some sense of responsibility."

The president said there was a time for corporate leaders to make profits and take home bonuses but now is "not that time."

Yesterday, labor leaders were to visit the White House for a second consecutive day, where, a union official said, Obama was to abolish four Bush-era directives that unions opposed and then reintroduce a task force, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, focused on the middle class. Obama is playing to one of the Democratic Party's most reliable constituencies - organized labor - reversing a number of his predecessor's executives orders that critics regard as anti-union.

Both were meant as a way for the new administration to connect with workers at the end of a week that has seen US companies announce thousands more jobs cuts.

"Over the last 100 years the middle class was built on the back of organized labor. Without their weight, heft and their insistence starting in the early 1900s we wouldn't have the middle class we have now, in my view," Biden told CNBC on Thursday. "So I think labor getting a fair share of the pie is part of it."

Officials planned to re-announce a Middle Class Task Force aimed at finding ways to help an economic group that has been hammered by the recession.

Among the Bush-era executive orders that Obama was to reverse was one that allowed unionized companies to post signs informing workers that they are allowed to decertify their union. Critics claimed it was unfair because non-union businesses are not required to post signs letting workers know they are legally allowed to vote for a union.

Two Democratic sources also said Obama would prevent federal contractors from being reimbursed for expenses that were intended to influence workers' decisions to form unions or engage in collective bargaining.

A third Obama order would require federal vendors with more than US$100,000 in contracts to post workers' rights under the National Labor Relations Act.


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