Michigan State Police officers move and control the crowd as the protest against right-to-work legislation continues outside the Capitol in Lansing. Photo courtesy Andre J. Jackson, Detroit Free Press
Against a backdrop of raucous protests in the Michigan capitol,
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law controversial right-to-work
legislation after final passage in the GOP-led state legislature.
The Michigan house passed two right-to-work laws earlier in the day -
one focused on public sector workers, and one focused on private-sector
workers - as protesters supporting unions chanted "shame on you" and
"union busting is disgusting." The bills passed the Republican-led
Michigan Senate last week, and Snyder signed them late Tuesday.
legislation, which is currently in place in 23 states, prevents
agreements in which employees are required to pay union dues. American
workers can't be forced to join unions, but many unions and companies
have agreements in which all employees must pay union dues.
laws make such agreements illegal. Proponents say they give workers
more freedom and are good for business; opponents say they are designed
to shrink unions so they have less leverage in fighting for better
wages, benefits and working conditions.
President Obama on Monday called the Michigan legislation "right to work for less money" and said lawmakers shouldn't be trying "to take away your right to bargain for better wages."
But Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who long maintained that
right-to-work was not on his agenda, has been adamant in his support for
the legislation, which he says will create jobs. "It's about being
pro-worker, it's about giving freedom of choice to workers," Snyder told MSNBC.
MLive reported Tuesday
that an estimated 10,000 protesters descended on the Capitol Tuesday
morning, with state police limiting access to the Capitol building after
it reached its 2,000 person capacity.
Though most protesters
opposed right-to-work, there were some supporters present as well --
many affiliated with the conservative advocacy group Americans for
Prosperity. The Michigan branch of that group said in a statement that
the legislation reflected "a pro-growth policy that can and will help to
turn Michigan's economy around." The tent erected by Americans for
Prosperity at the protests was torn down by opponents of the legislation.
Before Snyder signed the legislation, Michigan state Rep. Douglas Geiss said Tuesday that "there will be blood" if they become law.
"We are going to undo 100 years of labor relations," Geiss said.
The Michigan House Speaker, Republican Jase Bolger, said the legislation was about helping workers, not hurting them.
"This is not about Republicans versus Democrats," he said, according to MLive.
"This is not about management versus labor. ... This is not about the
past. This is about the future. ... Today is a game-changer - for
Michigan, for its workers, and for our future."
legislation is particularly significant in Michigan because it is
considered the symbolic heart of the labor movement. "Sit down" strikes
in Flint in the 1930s launched the United Auto Workers as a major power
and led to the unionization of the U.S. auto industry.
opponents fear that passage in Michigan will spur moves to pass such
laws in states like Wisconsin and Ohio that will further weaken an
already sputtering labor movement. Over the past half-century, the
percentage of American workers in a union has declined from 30 percent
to less than 12 percent.
Rev. Jesse Jackson was among the
protesters who sat on the floor of the Capitol building during the
House votes. After the bill passed, protesters chanted "veto" and "the
people united will never be defeated" as state troopers guarded
entrances to the House and Senate chambers. Outside, protesters held
signs reading "union strength is a family value," while inside they sang
"solidarity." The Detroit Free Press reported that a trooper used
pepper spray on one protester outside the Capitol.
are vowing to consider pursuing recall bids against lawmakers who voted
for the bill, including Snyder. That could mean a repeat of the recall
fight that took place after Wisconsin passed controversial anti-union
measures last year, though the first-term governor already faces
reelection in 2014.