At a Daimler AG plant in Redford, Michigan Monday, President Obama slammed the controversial "right-to-work" legislation expected to be signed into law by Governor Rick Snyder this week, saying the proposed law has "nothing to do with economics" and "everything to do with politics."
"What they're really talking about," Obama added, "is giving you the right to work for less money."
Obama criticized Michigan Republicans for focusing on anti-union legislation over job creation. "We should be doing everything we can to keep creating good middle class jobs, he said, before adding, "What we shouldn't be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions," a line that drew thunderous applause from the pro-labor crowd.
At issue is a bill that would make Michigan the country's 24th so called right-to-work state, and which began to make its way through the legislature less than a week ago, when Governor Rick Snyder announced it was "time" to take it up. Snyder had had relatively good relations with his state's unions, having supported the auto bailout and discouraged his Republican colleagues from taking on the right-to-work bill. But that all changed last week as he gave the lame duck Republicans in Lansing the go-ahead to push the bill.
Using a series of tricks and measures that may make the legislation referendum-proof, both the Michigan House and Senate passed the bill last week despite strong opposition from Democrats and hundreds of protesters rallying outside the capitol.
As The Ed Show notes, "labor unions and activists have frequently deployed the "right-to-work for less" line when combating right-to-work legislation in various states. And indeed, research by the labor-affiliated Economic Policy Institute suggests that right-to-work states have 3.2% lower wages for all workers than non-right-to-work states."
In his speech Monday, Obama made the case that the well-paid worker is an American asset, rather than a deterrent to potential employers.
We don't want a race to the bottom. We want a race to the top. America's not going to compete based on low-skill, low-wage, no workers rights, that's not our competitive advantage. There's always going to be another country that can treat its workers even worse. Right? What's going to make us succeed is we've got the best workers, well-trained, reliable, productive, low-turnover, healthy -- that's what makes us strong. And it also is what allows our workers then to buy the products that we make, because they've got enough money in their pockets.
Obama also took the opportunity to announce a new $120 million investment from Daimler that will bring another 115 "good new union jobs" to the plant.
Obama is far from the only person taking issue with the right-to-work legislation. Thousands of union supporters are expected to descend on Lansing Tuesday to protest the legislation, which Snyder could sign as early as that day. Many will come from nearby Wisconsin, where workers fought Governor Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans in 2011 after a similar power play ended collective bargaining rights for public employees.