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Michigan GOP pushes right to work amid protests

  • David Dudenhoefer, left, a right to work supporter, receives a thumbs down sign from a union worker during a rally in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. Tensions rose at the Capitol late Wednesday afternoon when hundreds of union members packed into the rotunda area, blowing whistles and shouting slogans such as "Union buster" and "Right to work has got to go." Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session as outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and say rushing it through would poison the state's political atmosphere. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

    David Dudenhoefer, left, a right to work supporter, receives a thumbs down sign from a union worker during a rally in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. Tensions rose at the Capitol late Wednesday afternoon when hundreds of union members packed into the rotunda area, blowing whistles and shouting slogans such as "Union buster" and "Right to work has got to go." Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session as outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and say rushing it through would poison the state's political atmosphere. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Union workers hold up a signs during a rally outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session.  (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

    Union workers hold up a signs during a rally outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • A union steel worker holds up a sign during a rally outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. The outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and said rushing it through the legislative system would poison the state's political atmosphere. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

    A union steel worker holds up a sign during a rally outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. The outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and said rushing it through the legislative system would poison the state's political atmosphere. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • United Auto Workers President Bob King waits outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. The outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and said rushing it through the legislative system would poison the state's political atmosphere. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

    United Auto Workers President Bob King waits outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. The outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and said rushing it through the legislative system would poison the state's political atmosphere. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Union workers rally outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. The outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and said rushing it through the legislative system would poison the state's political atmosphere. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

    Union workers rally outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. The outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and said rushing it through the legislative system would poison the state's political atmosphere. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • State police keep union workers from entering the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. The outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and said rushing it through the legislative system would poison the state's political atmosphere. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

    State police keep union workers from entering the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. The outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and said rushing it through the legislative system would poison the state's political atmosphere. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

  • Protesters are led out of the State Capitol Building in handcuffs after demonstrating against right-to-work legislation inside the Capitol in downtown Lansing, Mich. Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. 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 was temporarily closed because of safety concerns. (AP Photo/The State Journal, Rod Sanford)

    Protesters are led out of the State Capitol Building in handcuffs after demonstrating against right-to-work legislation inside the Capitol in downtown Lansing, Mich. Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. 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 was temporarily closed because of safety concerns. (AP Photo/The State Journal, Rod Sanford)

  • State Police block  protesters outside the Senate chamber  at the State Capitol Building in downtown Lansing, Mich. Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. 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 was temporarily closed because of safety concerns. (AP Photo/The State Journal, Rod Sanford)

    State Police block protesters outside the Senate chamber at the State Capitol Building in downtown Lansing, Mich. Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. 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 was temporarily closed because of safety concerns. (AP Photo/The State Journal, Rod Sanford)

  • Protesters are led out of the State Capitol Building in handcuffs after demonstrating against right-to-work legislation inside the Capitol in downtown Lansing, Mich. Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. 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 was temporarily closed because of safety concerns. (AP Photo/The State Journal, Rod Sanford)

    Protesters are led out of the State Capitol Building in handcuffs after demonstrating against right-to-work legislation inside the Capitol in downtown Lansing, Mich. Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. 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 was temporarily closed because of safety concerns. (AP Photo/The State Journal, Rod Sanford)

  • David Dudenhoefer, left, a right to work supporter, receives a thumbs down sign from a union worker during a rally in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. Tensions rose at the Capitol late Wednesday afternoon when hundreds of union members packed into the rotunda area, blowing whistles and shouting slogans such as "Union buster" and "Right to work has got to go." Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session as outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and say rushing it through would poison the state's political atmosphere. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Union workers hold up a signs during a rally outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session.  (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • A union steel worker holds up a sign during a rally outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. The outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and said rushing it through the legislative system would poison the state's political atmosphere. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • United Auto Workers President Bob King waits outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. The outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and said rushing it through the legislative system would poison the state's political atmosphere. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Union workers rally outside the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. The outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and said rushing it through the legislative system would poison the state's political atmosphere. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • State police keep union workers from entering the Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012 as Senate Republicans introduced right-to-work legislation in the waning days of the legislative session. The outnumbered Democrats pledged to resist the proposal and said rushing it through the legislative system would poison the state's political atmosphere. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
  • Protesters are led out of the State Capitol Building in handcuffs after demonstrating against right-to-work legislation inside the Capitol in downtown Lansing, Mich. Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. 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 was temporarily closed because of safety concerns. (AP Photo/The State Journal, Rod Sanford)
  • State Police block  protesters outside the Senate chamber  at the State Capitol Building in downtown Lansing, Mich. Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. 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 was temporarily closed because of safety concerns. (AP Photo/The State Journal, Rod Sanford)
  • Protesters are led out of the State Capitol Building in handcuffs after demonstrating against right-to-work legislation inside the Capitol in downtown Lansing, Mich. Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. 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 was temporarily closed because of safety concerns. (AP Photo/The State Journal, Rod Sanford)

Republicans rushed right-to-work legislation through the Michigan Legislature yesterday, drawing raucous protests from hundreds of union supporters, some of whom were pepper-sprayed by the police when they tried to storm the Senate chamber.

The House voted 58-52 yesterday afternoon to approve the measure prohibiting most private unions from collecting fees from nonunion employees. The Senate was expected to follow later yesterday, but future votes are necessary because the versions are different.

Opponents of so-called right-to-work measures say they drain unions of money and weaken their ability to bargain for good wages and benefits. Supporters insist it would boost the economy and job creation.

A victory in Michigan would give the movement its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt region, where organized labor already has suffered several body blows.

But even before the votes, protesters streamed inside preparing for what appeared inevitable after Gov. Rick Snyder joined GOP legislative leaders yesterday morning in announcing they would push swift passage.

“This is all about taking care of the hard-working workers in Michigan, being pro-worker and giving them freedom to make choices,” Snyder said during a news conference with House Speaker Jase Bolger and Senate Minority Leader Randy Richardville.

“The goal isn’t to divide Michigan, it is to bring Michigan together,” Snyder said.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley repeatedly gaveled for order as Democratic senators denounced 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 quickly 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 yesterday afternoon, sending hundreds of protesters streaming back inside with chants of, “Whose house? Our house!” Adamczyk said a judge ordered the building reopened.

But 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 that were expected to be introduced yesterday.

Protesters waved placards and chanted slogans such as “Union buster” and “Right-to-work has got to go.” Adamczyk said the troopers used pepper spray after the people refused to obey orders to stop.

He estimated that about 2,500 visitors were inside the capitol.

After repeatedly insisting during his first two years in office that right-to-work was not on his agenda, Snyder reversed course yesterday, a month after voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have barred such measures under the state constitution.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Snyder said he had kept the issue at arm’s length while pursuing other programs to bolster the state economy. But he 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.

Snyder and the GOP leaders insisted the legislation was not meant to weaken unions or collective bargaining, saying it would make unions more responsive to their members.

Senate Democratic leader Gretchen Whitmer said she was “livid.”

“These guys have lied to us all along the way,” she said. “They are pushing through the most divisive legislation they could come up with in the dark of night, at the end of a lame-duck session and then they’re going to hightail it out of town. It’s cowardly.”

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.

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