WASHINGTON -- When President Barack Obama arrives in Michigan on Monday to sell his vision for addressing the so-called fiscal cliff, he will be stepping into a state that is currently witnessing a massive battle between its governor and labor community. And according to union officials, Obama will weigh in on the controversy and speak out against "right-to-work" laws.
Michigan is set to become the 24th right-to-work state, with Gov. Rick Snyder (R) poised to sign the controversial bill on Tuesday after it was fast-tracked by the GOP-controlled legislature. Thousands of union supporters protested at the state capitol in Lansing last week, and more protests are expected in the coming days.
On Monday, Obama is scheduled to give a speech on the fiscal cliff at the Daimler Detroit Diesel plant, as part of his public campaign to build support for raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans as he negotiates with congressional Republicans.
The Obama administration told labor leaders that the president will also be weighing in on the right-to-work fight in his speech, according to union officials who spoke with The Huffington Post.
The White House did not return a request for comment, but on Thursday, it put out a statement expressing Obama's opposition to what Snyder is doing in Michigan.
"President Obama has long opposed so-called ‘right to work’ laws and he continues to oppose them now," said White House spokesman Matt Lehrich. "The president believes our economy is stronger when workers get good wages and good benefits, and he opposes attempts to roll back their rights. Michigan -- and its workers' role in the revival of the US automobile industry -– is a prime example of how unions have helped build a strong middle class and a strong American economy."
By addressing the issue in a high-profile speech, Obama would be giving it significantly more attention and providing a boost to activists on the ground who are attempting to raise awareness.
Right-to-work legislation would ban automatic payroll deductions of union dues. Supporters say workers who don't want to belong to a union shouldn't be forced to pay dues. Opponents, however, point out that these non-payers will reap the benefits of a unionized workplace without paying their fair share.
"What this is really about is defunding unions," said Steve Cook, president of Michigan Education Association, on Friday. "They're attacking the collective bargaining process. They want to force unions to basically have to provide services, benefits and the protections to non-members who will not pay a penny for them. It defunds unions. It cripples unions."
Michigan's rules require that the House and Senate wait five days before voting on each other's bills. The legislature is set to reconvene on Tuesday, when it is expected to approve final passage of the right-to-work legislation. Snyder could sign it the same day.
While labor officials acknowledge there is little they can do to stop the bill from becoming law at this point, unions are essentially declaring an all-out war on politicians who back right to work -- including raising the possibility of recalling them from office, as was attempted in Wisconsin.
"They've awakened a sleeping giant," United Auto Workers President Bob King told the AP. "Not just union members. A lot of regular citizens, non-union households, realize this is a negative thing."
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