LANSING, Mich. (AP) — For generations, Michigan was the ultimate labor stronghold — a state built by factory workers for whom a high school diploma and a union card were the ticket to a middle-class life.
Yet it took only hours for Republicans to tear down a key part of that tradition, the requirement that all employees in a union workplace pay dues.
The swift action was the result of a decisive governor who teamed up with a supermajority of GOP allies in the statehouse to win a prize long sought by conservatives. It also provided a window into how state governments might work in an era when they are increasingly run by a single party.
Gov. Rick Snyder, a venture capitalist and corporate executive before his successful run for governor in 2010, didn't bother with political niceties this week after dropping his previous objection to dealing with the right-to-work issue. He announced his support Thursday at a news conference.
Within hours, the House and Senate had introduced and approved bills prohibiting what are known as "closed shops," where workers are required to join a union or pay fees that are equivalent to union dues as a condition of employment.
No topic is touchier for organized labor, which contends such laws enable workers to enjoy benefits won by unions without supporting the costs of organizing and negotiating. Labor leaders say the ultimate intent is to deprive them of money and bargaining power.
"Whether proponents call this 'right-to-work' or 'freedom-to-work,' it's really just 'freedom to freeload,'" said Steve Cook, president of the Michigan Education Association.
Snyder and the Legislature's top Republicans — House Speaker Jase Bolger and Majority Leader Randy Richardville — steadfastly insisted the measures were not intended to weaken unions but to make them more accountable to members.
"I support the unions in many regards. I support their right to organize," Snyder said. "I continue to be an advocate for collective bargaining in Michigan. ... This is to give people the ability to choose and decide who they associate with."
Union leaders and hundreds of rank-and-file activists swarmed the state Capitol grounds and hallways Thursday, chanting and hurling catcalls from the galleries as lawmakers rushed the bills through.
"The tea party takeover of the Michigan GOP is officially complete," state Democratic Chairman Mark Brewer said.
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