Michigan Legislature sends governor right-to-work bills

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — As the chants of angry

protesters filled the Capitol, Michigan lawmakers gave final approval

Tuesday

to right-to-work legislation, dealing a devastating and

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 as the Senate showed last week. One measure

dealt with private sector workers, the other with government

employees. Both were sent to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who

pledged to sign them within days.

"This is about freedom, fairness and equality," House Speaker Jase Bolger said during floor debate. "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, but critics insist the real intent

is to weaken

organized labor by encouraging workers to "freeload" by

withholding money unions need to bargain effectively with management.

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," and Democrats warned that hard feelings from the legislation and Republicans' refusal to

hold committee hearings or allow a statewide referendum would be long lasting.

U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and other Democrats in the state's congressional delegation met with Snyder on Monday and urged him to

slow things down.

"For millions of Michigan workers, this is

no ordinary debate," 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."

Although impassioned, the crowds were

considerably smaller than those drawn by right-to-work legislation in

Indiana earlier

this year and in Wisconsin in 2011, during consideration of a law

curtailing collective bargaining rights for most state employees.

Those measures provoked weeks of intense debate, with Democrats

boycotting sessions to delay action and tens of thousands

of activists occupying statehouses.

In Michigan, Republicans acted so quickly that opponents had little time to plan massive resistance.

Snyder and GOP leaders announced their intentions last Thursday. Within hours, the bills were hurriedly pushed through the

Senate as powerless Democrats objected in vain. After a legally required five-day waiting period, the House approved final

passage.

Protesters began assembling before daylight

outside the sandstone-and-brick Capitol, chanting and whistling in the

chilly

darkness and waving placards with slogans such as "Stop the War on

Workers." Others joined a three-block march to the building,

some wearing coveralls and hard hats.

Valerie Constance, a reading instructor for the Wayne County Community College District and member or the American Federation

of Teachers, sat on the Capitol steps with a sign shaped like a tombstone. It read: "Here lies democracy."

"I do think this is a very sad day in Michigan history," Constance said.

The crowds filled the rotunda area, beating

drums and chanting. The chorus rose to a deafening thunder as House

members voted.

Later, protesters surged toward a building across the street where

Snyder has his office. Two people were arrested when they

tried to get inside, state police said.

But by late afternoon, the demonstrators had mostly dispersed.

Snyder insisted the matter wasn't handled with undue haste and that right-to-work was a long-discussed issue in Michigan.

"There has been lots of time for citizens to contact legislators and share their feelings," he said in an interview with radio

station WWJ-AM.

Michigan gives the right-to-work movement its strongest foothold yet in the Rust Belt, where the 2010 election and tea party

movement produced assertive Republican majorities that have dealt unions repeated setbacks.

Opponents said they would press Snyder to use his line-item veto authority to remove a $1 million appropriation from the bills,

making them eligible for a statewide referendum. But the House swiftly rejected a Democratic amendment to that effect.

Lawmakers who backed the bills "will be held accountable at the ballot box in 2014," said state Rep. Tim Greimel, the incoming

House Democratic leader.

But Sen. John Proos, a Republican from St. Joseph who voted for both bills, predicted that objections would fade as the shift

in policy brings more jobs to Michigan.

"As they say in sports," he said, "the atmosphere in the locker room gets a lot better when the team's winning."