During a speech at the Detroit Diesel Plant in Redford, Michigan on Monday, President Obama spoke out against Gov. Rick Snyder’s (R-MI) efforts to rush anti-union “right-to-work” legislation through a lame duck session of the state legislature. The effort would allow union members to opt out of paying union dues, while benefiting from union contracts and requiring the unions to represent them.
Building on the efforts of union leaders and Democrats, who met with Snyder to urge him to reconsider the measure, Obama argued that so-called “right to work” would actually take away workers’ rights to bargain for “better wages and working conditions.” He stressed that the legislative push is driven by politics, not economic consideration:
OBAMA: These 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. You only have to look to Michigan, where workers were instrumental to reviving the auto industry, to see how unions have helped build not just a stronger middle class, but a stronger America. [...]
We don’t want a race to the bottom. We want a race to the top. America is not going to compete based on low skill low wage no workers’ rights. That’s not our competitive advantage. There is always going to be some other 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’s also is what allows our workers then to buy the products that we make because they got enough money in their pockets.
At Snyder’s urging, the state House and Senate each passed versions of the law last week and Obama isn’t alone in condemning the governor. On Sunday, The Detroit Free-Press, which endorsed Snyder in his 2010 campaign, slammed his move as a “failure of leadership” and observed that his “about-face” amounted to a betrayal of Michigan’s voters. Earlier this year, Snyder told a U.S. House committee, “Right-to-work is an issue that is a very divisive issue… we have many problems in Michigan that are much more pressing… I don’t believe it is appropriate in Michigan during 2012.” But last Thursday, he announced that he had changed his mind and the Republican-controlled legislature soon rammed through the anti-union bills with minimal debate.
Michigan’s middle class has been hit particularly hard by the recession — earning only 47 percent of the state’s income in 2012 (down from 53.6 percent in 1979) — and allowing workers to opt out of unions would hurt employees even more. Research shows that “right-to-work” laws result in smaller wages, pensions, and health care benefits for union and non-union workers alike.