Obama takes on union fight in Michigan

President Barack Obama speaks on the economy and fiscal cliff negotiations after touring the Daimler Detroit Diesel Plant in Redford, Michigan, December 10, 2012. Getty Images

President Obama told employees at Daimler's Detroit Diesel in Redford, Mich., today that lawmakers shouldn't be trying "to take away your right to bargain for better wages."

The comment prompted sustained applause from the largely supportive audience, and came just one day before Michigan's Republican governor, Rick Snyder, is likely to sign so-called right-to-work legislation in the face of union protest.

"These so-called right-to-work laws, they don't have anything to do with economics, they have to do with politics," continued Mr. Obama, who assailed the laws as being about the "right to work for less money."

Right-to-work is the name that proponents have given to legislation that prevents agreements in which employees are required to pay union dues.

Snyder is planning to sign right-to-work legislation Tuesday, making Michigan the 24th state with right-to-work laws on the books, and protesters are set to descend on the state capitol in Lansing. Members of the United Auto Workers Local 600 engaged in civil disobedience training over the weekend, reports the Detroit News, and members of the Michigan Nurses Association plan to gather on the capitol steps with duct tape over their mouths.

UAW President Bob King says that if the measure does pass, the union will consider efforts to recall state lawmakers as well as Snyder, a first-term governor, in a potential repeat of the recall fight that took place last year in Wisconsin.

Supporters of right-to-work laws - largely Republicans and business interests - say workers should have the right not to pay union dues if they don't want to. (They also call the laws "freedom to work.") They also say that right-to-work laws are good for business.

Critics - largely Democrats and unions - say the laws are designed to weaken unions. They argue that if employees are not required to pay union dues, it hurts the union and thus limits the ability of workers to successfully engage in collective bargaining. That results, they say, in lower wages and worse working conditions.

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