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Thank you, Mr. President

Local 909 leader has honor of introducing Obama at rally

It’s not often you get to meet the president of the United States.

President Obama takes the stage and thanks Ghana Goodwin-Dye after her introduction of the president at a Labor Day rally on the Detroit riverfront.

UAW Local 909 President Ghana Goodwin-Dye not only met the president, but she also had the honor of introducing him at a Labor Day rally Sept. 5 in downtown Detroit that featured an address from President Obama, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis and several other labor leaders before thousands of activists and UAW members.

The crowd gathered on the Detroit River waterfront behind General Motors Co.’s Renaissance Center to hear the president speak. Legendary singer Aretha Franklin and the Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit also performed.

Goodwin-Dye served on the UAW GM National Negotiating Committee and, as president of Local 909, represents workers at GM’s Powertrain facility in Warren, Mich. She has worked at GM since 1985, acquiring journeyman status in 2008 as an electrician. Goodwin-Dye is the first African-American woman to be elected president of her local.

She says her role in the introduction started with a meeting one day with UAW Vice President Joe Ashton, who directs the union’s General Motors Department.

“Vice President Ashton told me and [GM] Bargaining Committee Chairman Harold Jackson that the president was speaking downtown and someone needed to introduce him. Out of four other candidates, I was chosen. I was excited and honored that Joe Ashton thought enough of me to introduce the president,” she said. “He had appointed me recording secretary for the bargaining team, and then to have the opportunity to introduce the president … I was honored and moved by that.”

When Ashton called to tell her his decision, Goodwin-Dye says she did a happy dance around the office, she was so thrilled. She recalls the whole experience as being surreal, from writing the speech, to racing across town with her son and mother to get to the rally on time, right up to waiting in the staging area with Michigan’s Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Teamster International President Jimmy Hoffa, as well as UAW President Bob King, UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams and other labor leaders.

Goodwin-Dye was at the center of history in the making. It was an experience that she will not soon forget.

“When President Obama came in, he spoke with everyone while pictures were being taken. He asked to meet the person who would do his introduction. He actually thanked me and told me he appreciated me taking the time to do this. But honestly, the honor was all mine. My family got to witness me share the stage with a president I’m so proud of.”

For Goodwin-Dye, that day will go down in the books as one of the most rewarding moments of her life. Her children will surely mark it as one to be proud of – a day when their mother stood with giants. For Goodwin-Dye’s own mother, a cancer survivor, seeing her daughter share the spotlight with Obama was uniquely special, something she never imagined she’d see in her lifetime.

“I feel especially connected to Obama because I am the first female black president of my local … and he is the first black president of the United States, and we were both elected president in [2008]. When I shared my story with him in those brief moments before we hit the stage, he said, ‘Yes, we’re both making history,’” added Goodwin-Dye.

And then it was time to take the stage.

“I remember the crowd was cheering and clapping, and I thought it was so cool. There was so much energy. This experience has humbled me a lot, to have that kind of welcome from my union brothers and sisters, and to be there representing them on that day was inspiring,” said Goodwin-Dye.

She told the crowd, “If it wasn’t for President Obama, we would not have the opportunity to once again build the best cars and trucks in the whole world. Many said the U.S. auto companies would never succeed. WE PROVED THEM WRONG!” she yelled to the crowd as they roared back in support.

“Now it’s time for us as labor and a community to stand with the president as he stood with us,” she said.

It seemed that all of Motown was holding their breath in anticipation of Obama’s appearance that day.

The exhilarated crowd chanted over and over: “Four more years! Four more years! Four more years!”

And for that moment in time, basking in the fellowship of union solidarity and the president’s praise and encouragement, it was in fact labor’s day to be honored.

Joan Silvi and Gwynne Cobb