The first thing I thought about, when I heard what Michigan Republicans did to undermine labor unions by a last-minute push for so-called right-to-work legislation, was that it is a race to the bottom, in terms of wages and benefits and working conditions for American workers.
And wouldn’t you know it, President Obama was reading my mind and he related the following during a speech at an engine manufacturing plant called Detroit Diesel in Michigan on Monday:
I just got to say this — what we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages and working conditions. (Applause.) We shouldn’t be doing that. (Applause.) These so-called “right to work” laws, they don’t have to do with economics; they have everything to do with politics. (Applause.) What they’re really talking about is giving you the right to work for less money. (Applause.)
You only have to look to Michigan — where workers were instrumental in reviving the auto industry — to see how unions have helped build not just a stronger middle class but a stronger America. (Applause.) So folks from our state’s capital, all the way to the nation’s capital, they should be focused on the same thing. They should be working to make sure companies like this manufacturer is able to make more great products. That’s what they should be focused on. (Applause.) We don’t want a race to the bottom. We want a race to the top. (Applause.)
But I really want to focus on these remarks by the President, which tell the story of unionism through one individual:
…as I was coming over here, I was hearing about a guy named Willie. (Applause.) Where’s Willie? There’s Willie right here. There’s Willie. (Applause.) Now, in case you haven’t heard of him, they actually call him “Pretty Willie.” (Laughter.) Now, I got to say you got to be pretty tough to have a nickname like “Pretty Willie.” (Laughter.) He’s tough.
On Wednesday, Willie will celebrate 60 years working at Detroit Diesel — 60 years. (Applause.) Willie started back on December 12, 1952. I was not born yet. (Laughter.) Wasn’t even close to being born. He made $1.40 an hour. The only time he spent away from this plant was when he was serving our country in the Korean War. (Applause.) So three generations of Willie’s family have passed through Detroit Diesel. One of his daughters works here with him right now — is that right? There she is. (Applause.)
In all his years, Willie has been late to work only once. It was back in 1977. (Laughter.) It’s been so long he can’t remember why he was late — (laughter and applause) — but we’re willing to give him a pass.
So Willie believes in hard work. You don’t keep a job for 60 years if you don’t work hard. Sooner or later, someone is going to fire you if you don’t work hard. He takes pride in being part of something bigger than himself. He’s committed to family; he’s committed to community; he’s committed to country. That’s how Willie lives his life. That’s how all of you live your lives.
And that makes me hopeful about the future, because you’re out there fighting every day for a better future for your family and your country.