President Obama speaks to workers at the Daimler Detroit Diesel engine… (Bill Pugliano, Getty Images )
One day before Michigan's Legislature reconvenes for what could be the final votes on "right-to-work" legislation, President Obama criticized the effort to bar unions from requiring nonunion workers to pay fees, saying it would hurt employees' ability to bargain for better wages.
Authorities were bracing for an onslaught of demonstrators Tuesday by boosting the police presence and planning road closures and parking restrictions around the state Capitol in Lansing.
When the surprise legislation was rushed through the Republican-dominated House and Senate last week, Democrats angrily objected and hundreds of chanting union activists clogged the hallways. Some were pepper-sprayed when they tried to storm the Senate chamber.
The measures prohibit private unions from requiring that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services. The Senate also voted to impose the requirement on most public employee unions. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has endorsed the legislation.
Obama traveled to the Daimler Detroit Diesel facility Monday as the company announced plans to add new technology and expand production at the 74-year-old plant. The $100-million investment will add 115 jobs to the 2,200-member unionized workforce.
The president, who won a second term in part because of unions' organizational might, told workers: "We should do everything we can to keep creating good middle-class jobs that help folks rebuild security for their families. What we shouldn't be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions.
"What they're really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money."
Right-to-work laws have nothing to do with economics and "everything to do with politics," Obama said.
Snyder, who greeted the president earlier in the day, had said during his first two years in office that right-to-work legislation wasn't a priority for him. The governor reversed course last week, saying the measure would help the state compete for jobs by letting investors "know that Michigan is the place to do business." Supporters say it was all the more important after Indiana passed similar legislation this year.
Michigan would be the 24th state to enact a right-to-work law.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.