Obama: Right-to-work about politics, not economics

9:56 AM, Dec 11, 2012   |    comments
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AP file photo of President Barack Obama.

REDFORD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (Detroit Free Press) -- President Obama visited Detroit Diesel's Redford engine plant to talk about the company's $120 million investment, but he made clear he opposes the right-to-work legislation Gov. Rick Snyder and Republican legislators are expected to finalize Tuesday in Lansing.

"What we shouldn't be dong is taking away your rights to bargain for better labor agreements," Obama said, about halfway through his speech. "These so called right-to-work laws, they don't have anything to do with economics, they have to do with politics."

Obama's comments came as the legislature is poised to make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state. On Thursday, Gov. Rick Snyder has said he would sign the legislation.

Right-to-work legislation makes it illegal to require financial support of a union as a condition of employment, but workers who opt not to pay dues would receive all the wages and benefits a union would bargain for in a contract.

Snyder has said the legislation will make Michigan more competitive when it tries to recruit business to the state, but critics point out that it will cripple unions' ability to fund their political policy objectives.

Obama also praised the workers at Detroit Diesel and parent company Daimler for investing $120 million more in the plant.

Detroit Diesel employs about 2,300 and makes engines, rear axles and 12-speed transmissions for heavy-duty trucks.

"That is great for the plant, it is great for this community, but it is also great for American manufacturing," Obama said.

Obama said Daimler's investment is another example of a company making a bet on American manufacturing.

The President said the economy is recovering, in part due to the administration's willingness to rescue the automotive industry.

"It was just a few years ago that the auto industry was on the verge of collapse," Obama said. "And all of you, the men and women who built these companies with your own hands would have been hung out to dry."

In 2009, the Obama administration provided about $80 billion in loans to General Motors, Chrysler and their financial subsidiaries. He also appointed a team to oversee the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler. Both have emerged from bankruptcy and are earning profits.

In May 2011, Chrysler repaid $9.3 billion the U.S. and Canadian governments six years earlier than required. That sum does not include the $1.3 billion provided by the Bush administration to the automaker before it filed for bankruptcy.

The Treasury Department still owns 32% of the new GM's common stock, but GM has repaid more than $23 billion in loans or through the sale of shares.

"We bet on American ingenuity, and three-and-a-half years later, that bet is paying off," Obama said.

Obama, who met Sunday for the first time in nearly a month with House Speaker John Boehner, said Congress should pass a package of measures that protects the middle class and American workers.

Obama wants to raise tax rates on higher income earners while keeping them at current levels for households making less than $250,000 a year.

"I believe we are at our best when everybody who works hard has a chance to get ahead," Obama said. "That's the idea that's in the heart of the economic plant I have talked about all year long on the campaign trail."

By Brent Snavely, Detroit Free Press staff writer

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