Michigan GOP pushes right-to-work
Although rumors had circulated for weeks that right-to-work measures might surface during the session's waning days, the speed with which the GOP-dominated Legislature acted Thursday caught many by surprise.
The Associated Press
LANSING, Mich. — Republicans slammed right-to-work legislation through the Michigan House and Senate on Thursday, drawing raucous protests from throngs of stunned union supporters, whose outnumbered Democratic allies were powerless to stop it.
Just hours after the measures were introduced, both chambers approved measures prohibiting private unions from requiring that nonunion employees pay fees. The Senate quickly followed by voting to impose the same requirement on most public unions.
Although rumors had circulated for weeks that right-to-work measures might surface during the session's waning days, the speed with which the GOP-dominated Legislature acted Thursday caught many by surprise. Details of the bills weren't made publicly available until they were read aloud on both floors as debate began.
The chaos drew protests from hundreds of union supporters, some of whom were pepper-sprayed by police when they tried to storm the Senate chamber.
Because of rules requiring a five-day delay between votes in the two chambers on the same legislation, final enactment could not take place until Tuesday at the earliest. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who previously had said that right-to-work was "not on my agenda," said Thursday he would sign the measures.
Democrats denounced the bills as an attack on worker rights, but the GOP sponsor insisted they would boost the economy and jobs. A House vote on public-sector unions was expected later.
A victory in Michigan would give the right-to-work movement its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt region, where organized labor already has suffered several body blows. Republicans in Indiana and Wisconsin recently pushed through legislation curbing union rights, sparking massive protests.
Even before the Michigan bills turned up, protesters streamed inside the Capitol preparing for what appeared inevitable after Snyder, House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Minority Leader Randy Richardville announced at a news conference they were putting the issue on a fast track.
"This is all about taking care of the hardworking workers in Michigan, being pro-worker and giving them freedom to make choices," Snyder said.
"The goal isn't to divide Michigan, it is to bring Michigan together," Snyder said.
But Democrats said the legislation — and Republicans' tactics — would poison the state's political atmosphere.
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley repeatedly gaveled for order during the Senate debate as Democrats attacked the legislation to applause from protesters in the galley. At one point, a man shouted, "Heil Hitler! Heil Hitler! That's what you people are." He was escorted out. Another later yelled, "We will remember in November."
Eight people were arrested for resisting and obstructing when they tried to push past two troopers guarding the Senate door, state police Inspector Gene Adamczyk said.
The Capitol, which was temporarily closed because of safety concerns, reopened Thursday afternoon, sending hundreds of protesters streaming back inside with chants of, "Whose house? Our house!" Adamczyk said a judge ordered the building reopened.
The decision to push forward in the waning days of the Legislature's lame-duck session infuriated outnumbered Democrats, who resorted to parliamentary maneuvers to slow action but were powerless to block the bills.
After repeatedly insisting during his first two years in office that right-to-work was not on his agenda, Snyder reversed course Thursday, a month after voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have barred such measures under the state constitution.
In an interview, Snyder said circumstances had pushed the matter to the forefront.
"It is a divisive issue," he acknowledged. "But it was already being divisive over the past few weeks, so let's get this resolved. Let's reach a conclusion that's in the best interests of all."
Also influencing his decision, he said, were reports that some 90 companies had decided to locate in Indiana since that state adopted right-to-work legislation. "That's thousands of jobs, and we want to have that kind of success in Michigan," he said.
Republicans have commanding majorities in both chambers: 64-46 in the House and 26-12 in the Senate. Under their rules, only a simple majority of members elected and serving must be present to have a quorum and conduct business. For that reason, Democrats acknowledged that boycotting sessions and going into hiding, as some lawmakers in neighboring Indiana and Wisconsin have done in recent years, would be futile in Michigan.