LANSING, Mich. — As the chants of angry protesters filled the Capitol, Michigan lawmakers gave final approval Tuesday to right-to-work legislation, dealing a once-unthinkable defeat to organized labor in a state that has been a cradle of the movement for generations.
The Republican-dominated House ignored Democrats' pleas to delay the passage and instead approved two bills with the same ruthless efficiency the Senate showed last week. One measure dealt with private sector workers, the other with government employees. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed both within hours.
“This is about freedom, fairness and equality,” House Speaker Jase Bolger said. “These are basic American rights — rights that should unite us.”
After the vote, he said, Michigan's future “has never been brighter, because workers are free.”
Once the laws are enacted, the state where the United Auto Workers was founded and labor has long been a political titan will join 23 others with right-to-work laws, which ban requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services.
Supporters say the laws give workers more choice and support economic growth. Critics insist the intent is to weaken organized labor by letting workers “freeload” by withholding money unions need to bargain.
Protesters in the gallery chanted “Shame on you!” as the measures were adopted. Union backers clogged the hallways and grounds, shouting “No justice, no peace.” Democrats warned hard feelings over the legislation and Republicans' refusal to hold committee hearings or a statewide referendum would be long-lasting.
U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and other Democrats in the state's congressional delegation urged Snyder to slow things down.
For millions of Michigan workers, Levin said, “it's an assault on their right to have their elected bargaining agent negotiate their pay, benefits and working conditions, and to have all who benefit from such negotiations share in some way in the cost of obtaining them.”
The crowds were considerably smaller than those drawn by right-to-work legislation in Indiana this year and in Wisconsin in 2011, during consideration of a law ending collective bargaining rights for most state employees.
In Michigan, Republicans acted so quickly that opponents had little time to plan massive resistance.
“This was a problem that needed to be solved,” Snyder said. He expects the law to be challenged but thinks it will stand.
A failed ballot proposal to put collective bargaining rights in the state constitution paved the way to right-to-work, he said.