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

Published: Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2012 9:15 a.m. CDT
(Photo by Romain Blanquart/Detroit Free Press/MCT)
U.S. President Barack Obama greets workers as he tours Detroit Diesel Corp. on Monday, December 10, 2012, in Redford, Michigan. The company, owned by Daimler, announced an investment to expand production and jobs at the facility.

(MCT) — DETROIT — President Barack Obama visited Detroit Diesel’s engine plant in Redford Township Monday to talk about the company’s $120 million investment and to promote his plan to address the fiscal cliff.

But Obama, whose re-election was aided by strong union support, pivoted about half-way through his speech to address right-to-work legislation. “What we shouldn’t be dong is taking away your rights to bargain for better labor agreements,” Obama said. “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 come a day before the state legislature is poised to pass legislation that will make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state. On Thursday, Gov. Rick Snyder has said he would sign the legislation. Obama did not mention Snyder by name.

Right-to-work legislation makes it illegal to require financial support of a union as a condition of employment. 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 diminish dues received by unions and therefore hurt their ability to fund political campaigns.

Obama also praised the workers at Detroit Diesel and Daimler AG for deciding to invest $120 million 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 the U.S. auto industry and 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 to 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 percent of the new GM’s common stock, despite getting repaid more than $23 billion so far. “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 under $250,000 a year.

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

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