LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan Legislature gave final approval Tuesday to a bitterly contested right-to-work plan limiting the power of unions, a devastating and once unthinkable defeat for organized labor in a state considered a cradle of the movement.
Unswayed by Democrats’ angry pleas and thousands of protesters inside and outside the state Capitol, the House approved two final bills, sending them on to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder. One dealt with private-sector workers, the other with government employees. Both measures cleared the Senate last week.
Snyder is expected to sign the measures into law as early as today. That would make Michigan the 24th state with right-to-work laws, which ban requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services.
Supporters say they give workers more choice and boost economic growth, but critics say the real intent is to weaken organized labor by bleeding unions of money needed to bargain effectively with management.
“This is about freedom, fairness and equality,” House Speaker Jase Bolger said. “These are basic American rights – rights that should unite us.”
Democrats offered a series of amendments, one of which would have allowed a statewide referendum. All were swiftly rejected.
“This is the nuclear option,” said Rep. Doug Geiss, a Democrat from Taylor. “This is the most divisive issue that we have had to deal with. And this will have repercussions. And it will have personal hard feelings after this is all said and done.”
Protesters in the gallery chanted “Shame on you!” as the measures were approved. Union backers clogged the hallways and grounds shouting, “No justice, no peace.”
Sen. John Proos, a Republican from St. Joseph who voted for the right-to-work bills last week, said opponents had a right to voice their anger but predicted it would fade as the shift in policy brings more jobs to Michigan.
“As they say in sports, the atmosphere in the locker room gets a lot better when the team’s winning,” he said.