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REDFORD, Mich.-- President Obama attacked the plan up for a vote in the Michigan legislature Tuesday to abolish the closed union shop in Michigan as more about politics than economics, while helping to announce a $120 million expansion of a truck engine factory here today.
The comment was only a slight detour from the President's message that focused on continuing the kinds of investments by government in the things he said create middle-class stability in America - education, college loans, infrastructure, and energy research.
"What we shouldn't be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages," Mr. Obama said to huge cheers of a mostly United Auto Worker employees crowd inside the Detroit Diesel factory on Telegraph Road in Redford Township, a western Detroit suburb.
Mr. Obama visited the factory of the company owned by Daimler Benz of Germany to help announce a $120 million investment to expand the plant's product beyond the diesel engines and axles it now makes to include transmissions and turbos. The expansion will create 115 "good, union jobs," as Mr. Obama put it.
"These so-called right-to-work laws, they don't have to do with economics, they have to do with politics," the Democratic president said. "It gives you the right to work for less money."
He said Michigan workers were instrumental in reviving the auto industry, and he lamented what he said was a trend to "compete based on no worker rights."
That's not our competitive advantage," Mr. Obama said. "There will always be some other country that can treat its workers even worse."
A woman in the crowd shouted out, "Listen up, Snyder," a reference to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, who has said he supports the legislation that would abolish any requirements that employees pay union dues as a condition of work.
He said the U.S. edge is "the best workers, well-trained, reliable, productive, healthy."
He didn't address the controversial comments of Detroit Councilman JoAnn Watson who said last week that Mr. Obama should offer a bail-out to financial troubled Detroit as a "quid pro quo" for the strong vote he got out of Detroit voters.
After the speech, another Detroit politician said Mr. Obama has other immediate priorities, but that Detroit needs a helping hand and should get it.
"The first order of business is to get past the fiscal cliff," said state Rep. Fred Durhal Jr. (D., Detroit), chairman of the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, and a candidate for mayor of Detroit. "I think that Detroit's problems, as severe as they are, merit some discussion in the White House, but not at this point.
But after that, "I think there should be some recognition that this is a major American city that is in trouble and if we can find a way to get some help for the city of Detroit on a national level, then of course that's welcome. I don'T think Detroit's entitled to it any more than any other city. But, New York City didn't go down the drain, and I don't think they will let Detroit go down the drain."
The President's scolding of the Michigan legislature over its right-to-work legislation was a hit with the workers who heard the President's speech.
"I agree with everything that he's saying. That right to work is not a good thing for Michigan," said Michael Riley, 66, of Southfield, who retired in 2007 after 43 years in the factory. He said he was never laid off one day.
The President gave a shout-out to employee Willie Carter, who was two days away from his 60th anniversary working in the plant. Mr. Obama said he was late only once, in 1977, and his only extended absence from the job was to do military service during the Korean War.
Mr. Obama reprised many of the ideas he espoused during his many campaign speeches before wining re-election Nov. 6. He said Congress should enact the middle-class tax cuts on family incomes below $250,000 a year and let the top 2 percent of earners pay "a little bit more."
He recalled the auto bailout of 2009.
"Just a few years ago our auto industry was on the verge of collapse. If they failed, the suppliers and distributors could have died off too. Even Ford could have gone down. Once-proud companies chopped up, sold off for scrap. And all of you would have been hung out to dry," Mr. Obama said. He said that would have hurt, as well, those who depend on auto workers: "restaurants, storekeepers, bartenders," pausing for a laugh on the last reference.
It was Mr. Obama's first trip to the Detroit area in eight months, while he made dozens of trips in neighboring Ohio in the months leading up to the presidential election. Mr. Obama carried Michigan, Republican Mitt Romney's home state, with 54.2 percent of the vote.
Martin Daum, president and chief excecutive officer of Daimler Trucks North America, lauded the company's reputation for making excellent truck engines.
"Detroit stands for quality. Detroit stands for reliability . Detroit stands for fuel efficiency," Mr. Daum said. He said the word "diesel" was dropped from the company's name to enable the company to compete with different kinds of engine products.
"We want to enlarge our brand so we dropped diesel," Mr. Daum said. He spoke before Mr. Obama did.
Daimler acquired Chrysler in 1998 and sold it in 2007 to a private equity firm. Fiat of Italy acquired the company out of bankruptcy in 2009. Chrysler got taxpayer assistance of $12.37 billion, of which $11.13 billion has been repaid, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
Contact Tom Troy at: email@example.com or 419-724-6058.