Obama wades into labor fight on Michigan swing

Says Republicans are risking harm to the economy

  • President Obama watches a worker during a Dec. 10, 2012, visit to the heavy duty engines line at the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. (Associated Press)President Obama watches a worker during a Dec. 10, 2012, visit to the heavy duty engines line at the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. (Associated Press)
  • Audience members, including workers, cheer as President Obama speaks Dec. 10, 2012, about the economy during a visit to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. (Associated Press)Audience members, including workers, cheer as President Obama speaks Dec. 10, 2012, about the economy during a visit to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. (Associated Press)
  • President Obama smiles as he arrives Dec. 10, 2012, to speak to workers during a visit to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. (Associated Press)President Obama smiles as he arrives Dec. 10, 2012, to speak to workers during a visit to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. (Associated Press)
  • President Obama speaks to workers about the economy during a Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, visit to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. (Associated Press)President Obama speaks to workers about the economy during a Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, visit to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. (Associated Press)
  • President Obama watches workers during a Dec. 10, 2012, visit to the heavy duty engines line at the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. (Associated Press)President Obama watches workers during a Dec. 10, 2012, visit to the heavy duty engines line at the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. (Associated Press)
  • President Obama speaks Dec. 10, 2012, about the economy to an audience comprised of workers and guests during a visit to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. (Associated Press)President Obama speaks Dec. 10, 2012, about the economy to an audience comprised of workers and guests during a visit to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. (Associated Press)
  • President Obama greets well-wishers after stepping off Air Force One upon his arrival at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus, Mich., on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, before going to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)President Obama greets well-wishers after stepping off Air Force One upon his arrival at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus, Mich., on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, before going to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
  • President Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (right) are met by (from left) Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Rep. John D. Dingell, Sen. Carl Levin and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder after stepping off Air Force One upon arriving at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus, Mich., on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, before going to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)President Obama and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood (right) are met by (from left) Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, Rep. John D. Dingell, Sen. Carl Levin and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder after stepping off Air Force One upon arriving at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus, Mich., on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, before going to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
  • President Obama walks over to greet well-wishers after stepping off Air Force One upon his arrival at  the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus, Mich., on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, before going to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)President Obama walks over to greet well-wishers after stepping off Air Force One upon his arrival at the Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport in Romulus, Mich., on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, before going to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
  • President Obama turns to wave as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington's Maryland suburbs on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, as he travels to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)President Obama turns to wave as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington's Maryland suburbs on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, as he travels to the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
  • U.S. Secret Service agents hold open the door as President Obama steps out of his vehicle to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Washington on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, as he traveled to Michigan to visit the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)U.S. Secret Service agents hold open the door as President Obama steps out of his vehicle to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Washington on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, as he traveled to Michigan to visit the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
  • President Obama's motorcade arrives in heavy fog at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Washington on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, before Mr. Obama departed for Michigan. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)President Obama's motorcade arrives in heavy fog at Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Washington on Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, before Mr. Obama departed for Michigan. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
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Stumping for higher taxes on top earners, President Obama Monday also inserted himself squarely into Michigan’s boiling debate over a new right-to-work labor law, telling a crowd of Detroit-area auto workers that Republicans pushing for the law are creating political distractions and risking harm to the economy.

“What we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions,” the president said at the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant in Redford, Mich. “We don’t want a race to the bottom, we want a race to the top.”

He urged the state’s GOP-controlled legislature and Republican Gov. Rick Snyder to abandon their efforts to pass the law, which would forbid unions from charging its members dues automatically. Michigan would be the 24th state to adopt the right-to-work law, following Indiana’s passage of a similar law in February.

Labor groups and their Democratic allies plan more protests as the bills to implement right-to-work are voted on this week, calling the issue a divisive one in a state long seen as a bastion of the union movement.

“Folks from our state’s capital all the way to the nation’s capital should be focused on the same thing,” Mr. Obama said. “They should be working to make sure companies like this manufacturer is able to make more great products.  America’s not going to compete based on low-skill, low-wage, no workers’ rights — that’s not our competitive advantage.”

He said higher union wages enable workers to buy American products, “because they’ve got enough money in their pockets.”

But supporters of the right-to-work law, which would undercut a key source of union funding, say Mr. Obama’s opposition represents a political payback.

Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Committee, said it was “no surprise” that Mr. Obama would oppose individual choice for workers.

“After Big Labor bosses spent nearly a billion dollars in 2008, and a billion more in 2012, to elect President Obama and other forced unionism partisans to office, it is expected that President Obama would want to prop up a system of political paybacks that compels workers to pay for union boss politics that benefit Obama and other Big Labor politicians as a condition of employment,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Mix said private-sector employment has increased 12.5 percent in right-to-work states over the past decade, far better than in states where there is no right-to-work laws.

Victory lap

Fresh from a face-to-face meeting with Speaker John A. Boehner to avert the “fiscal cliff,” Mr. Obama visited the auto plant to press his case for higher taxes on wealthier families.

The president said he’s “willing to compromise a little bit” in the negotiations to reach a deficit-reduction deal, but said he won’t compromise on his proposal to hike tax rates on families earning more than $250,000 per year, while preserving tax cuts for the middle class.

His visit to the Detroit area also represented something of a victory lap for Mr. Obama, who campaigned heavily for reelection on his support for the auto bailout and accused Republican opponent Mitt Romney of abandoning the industry. Mr. Obama carried the state Nov. 6, despite the fact that his GOP rival was born there.

The president praised the German-based Daimler for announcing Monday that it will invest $125 million in an expansion of its U.S. operations, creating 115 new jobs.

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