Unions erupt as Michigan puts final touches on right-to-work bill

December 11, 2012

Michigan state lawmakers have approved a fiercely contested measure to make this historic bastion of union power a right-to-work state, even as a sea of union activists in steel-toe work boots, sweatshirts and paint-spattered jeans flooded the grounds of the state Capitol to protest the move.

The measure approved by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on a 58-51 vote deals with public-sector workers. Another bill focusing on the private sector was approved last week, when the Senate, also in Republican hands, endorsed both bills. When final versions have cleared the House, they'll go to GOPGov. Rick Snyder for his expected signature as early as Wednesday.

Scott Hagerstrom, the director of Americans for Prosperity-Michigan, said he was proud of the work of thousands of right-to-work supporters who stepped up to make Tuesday's vote happen.

"It's a great day for Michigan," he said as he stood inside a tent on the Michigan lawn amid a cacophony of bullhorns and shouting from opponents.

"It's really going to move Michigan forward. We're seeing it already in the jobs that have been created in Indiana," he said. "It does not bust the unions. But it will require unions to be more responsive to union membership. A little bit of competition is good for everyone."

But grizzled, agitated workers from around the country, bundled against the cold, banged wooden clubs on plastic buckets as impassioned speakers invoked the language of the civil rights movement. "No justice, no peace," they chanted as lawmakers inside the state Senate and House prepared for the final debate on the proposal.

In the crowd expected to reach 10,000 or more by the end of the day were pipefitters, steamfitters, carpenters, plumbers, electricians and teachers, wearing shirts emblazoned with the union acronyms. So many public school teachers took the day off to join the protest that a number of school districts in the state called off classes.

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