WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama weighed in on the contentious labor battle playing out in Michigan, condemning the Republican push to make Michigan a so-called “right-to-work” state as nothing more than a partisan maneuver that will hurt the working class.
“We should do everything we can to keep creating good middle-class jobs that help folks rebuild security for their families,” Obama said Monday in a speech at the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant.
“And by the way, what we shouldn’t do — I’ve just got to say this — what we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions,” he added to loud applause from the audience. “We shouldn’t be doing that. The so-called ‘right-to-work’ laws — they don’t have to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics. What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money.”
Michigan is set to become the 24th right-to-work state, with Gov. Rick Snyder (R) poised to sign the controversial bill after it was fast-tracked by the GOP-controlled legislature. Thousands of union supporters protested at the state capitol in Lansing last week, and more protests are planned for Tuesday.
Michigan’s rules require that the House and Senate wait five days before voting on each other’s bills. The legislature is set to approve final passage of the right-to-work legislation on Tuesday, and Snyder could sign it the same day.
Snyder met with Democratic members of Michigan’s congressional delegation on Monday morning. They urged him to veto the bill or, at the very least, request that the state legislature delay its Tuesday vote. According to Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who attended the meeting, the governor said he would “seriously” consider their request.
The bill would ban automatic payroll deductions of union dues. Supporters of right-to-work laws say workers who don’t want to belong to a union shouldn’t be forced to pay dues. Opponents, however, point out that these non-payers will reap the benefits of a unionized workplace without paying their fair share.
While labor officials acknowledge there is little they can do to stop the Michigan bill from becoming law at this point, unions are essentially declaring an all-out war on politicians who back right to work — including raising the possibility of recalling them from office, as was attempted in Wisconsin.
Democrats won’t be able to overturn right to work at the voting booth, because Republicans turned it into a spending bill, which can’t be put forward as a public referendum. But Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), who was also in the meeting with Snyder, said the governor and the legislature could get around that restriction.
“I asked the governor, if he’s not willing to veto it or not willing to delay, certainly he has two options,” said Peters. “One, there will be an amendment that will be proposed in the state legislature to put this to a vote of the people. Hopefully he will support it. If he can’t support that amendment, he should, at a minimum, strike the line — he has line-item veto power as state governor — he should strike the line for the appropriation to allow the people of the state of Michigan to vote.”
The White House said in a statement last week that Obama opposed right-to-work laws, but Monday marked the first time the president has personally spoken out about the labor fight in Michigan.