Backed by hundreds of Detroit Diesel employees represented by the UAW, President Barack Obama praised their work ethic and attacked Gov. Rick Snyder's and Michigan Republicans' rush to pass right-to-work legislation.
"We should do everything we can to encourage companies like Daimler (which owns Detroit Diesel) to keep investing in American workers," Obama said. "What we shouldn't be doing is taking away your rights to bargain for better labor agreements."
Obama came to the Redford Township factory to drum up support for his proposal to raise tax rates on Americans earning more than $250,000 a year. He also hailed Daimler's $120-million investment that will result in about 115 new jobs at the plant where about 2,300 workers make diesel engines and transmissions.
-- PHOTOS: President Obama at Detroit Diesel Corp
But about halfway through his speech, Obama took aim at right-to-work legislation that state lawmakers are poised to pass today in Lansing. Snyder has said he will sign the legislation that would make Michigan the 24th right-to-work state. Thousands of union workers opposed to the law are expected to face off against the law's supporters today at the state Capitol.
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 of a union contract governing their workplace.
The legislation has the backing of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group based in Arlington, Va., and founded by Charles and David Koch, co-owners of Koch Industries, a large privately-held holding company that owns businesses in the oil and gas, pulp and paper, chemical technology and manufacturing industries. The Koch brothers were among the most generous contributors to the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney.
"These so-called right-to-work laws, they don't have anything to do with economics, they have everything to do with politics," Obama said. "What they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money."
Snyder, who was among Michigan politicians who met Obama at the airport Monday, has said the legislation will make Michigan more competitive in recruiting business.
It also would restrict unions' ability to raise money to organize new members or support organized labor's public policy objectives.
"He hit it on the head," said Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano. "This is a political move, not an economic move ... let's face it, Michigan is ground zero for right-to-work."
Michigan Republican Party Chairman Bobby Schostak said Obama should stay out of Michigan's business.
"I encourage the former law professor and our current president to brush up on the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution," Schostak said in a statement. "The president's stance is a blatant attack on Michigan workers and demonstrates the president's staunch support of special-interest union bosses."
Obama also had tough words for Congress as he tries to negotiate a deal to avoid more than $600 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to begin in January.
The factory visit was part of a White House effort to rally popular support for Obama's position.
"If Congress doesn't act soon ... the "typical middle-class family of four will see an income tax hike of around $2,200," he 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 middle-class Americans.
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.
"That means 98% of Americans -- and probably 100% of you ... wouldn't see their income taxes go up a single dime," Obama said. "Congress can do that right now."
Obama said the nation's economy is recovering in part because of the productivity of Michigan workers and the willingness of companies like Detroit Diesel to invest in U.S. plants.
"That is great for the plant, it is great for this community, but it is also great for American manufacturing," Obama said.
"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 GM and Chrysler. Both have emerged from bankruptcy and are earning profits.
In May 2011, Chrysler repaid $9.3 billion to the U.S. and Canadian governments six years earlier than required. That does not include the $1.3 billion provided by the Bush administration prior to the automaker's bankruptcy.
The Treasury Department still owns 32% of the new GM's common stock, but the government has recovered more than $23 billion from the automaker.
"We bet on American ingenuity, and 3 1/2 years later, that bet is paying off," Obama said.
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