By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will add some political edge to his push for more overtime pay for U.S. workers on Thursday by touting it in Wisconsin, where Republican Governor Scott Walker has made a name for himself by clashing with labor unions.
Nearly 5 million more American workers would be made eligible for overtime pay under a proposal unveiled by Obama's Labor Department earlier this week.
Walker, who is expected to officially announce his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination on July 13, criticized the overtime proposal.
In a statement on the proposed rule, Walker said: "The president's effort is a political pitch, but the reality is this will lead to lower base pay and benefits and will cut workers' hours and flexibility in the workplace."
Early in his tenure as governor in 2011, Walker burnished his credentials with conservatives in his party by pushing for a law to limit the collective-bargaining rights of public sector employees. He survived a union-backed recall election in 2012.
Obama's proposed overtime rule is widely opposed by businesses and could face legal challenges, but it was heralded by workers' groups. Labor unions are a traditional ally of Obama, a Democrat, though that relationship was tested in June in Congress in a struggle over international trade.
Carrying the overtime-rule fight into Walker's Wisconsin will give Obama a chance to mend fences with unions, which last month unsuccessfully opposed his quest for "fast-track" power to craft a proposed 12-nation Pacific Rim trade treaty.
With Republican support, the president won congressional approval on June 24 for fast-track authority to speed trade deals through Congress. Under pressure from unions, only a handful of Democrats backed the move.
In the midst of the trade fight, unions and progressive political groups threatened to punish pro-trade Democrats by potentially backing rival candidates at primaries for 2016 congressional elections.
Mindful of that, Obama has been thanking members of his party who stuck with him. His remarks in Wisconsin will take place in the district of Representative Ron Kind, a Democratic trade legislation backer.
"The change in this overtime rule in a way that could potentially allow up to 5 million Americans to get a more fair paycheck, again, is an illustration that most of the time, when it comes to fighting for middle-class workers, the Obama administration and organized labor are on the same side," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Wednesday.
(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Tom Brown)