LANSING, Mich. (WOOD) — Union members stormed the Capitol rotunda in Lansing Thursday morning in anticipation of a decision by Gov. Rick Snyder about the right-to-work legislation.
The members weren't optimistic, but they were loud on the second day of protests.
Workers chanted "Right to work's got to go," and "No, No, No!" as they crowded the Capital rotunda in anticipation of the governor's announcement and subsequent legislative votes on right-to-work. Others heckled the Senate during an evening vote from the gallery.
Many union members that 24 Hour News 8 talked to said they believe that despite his earlier reluctance, the governor would sign the legislation. But they're not giving up without a very vocal fight.
"We're still here. We're still going to fight even when the odds are stacked against us," said Chris Keck, who is against the right-to-work legislation.
There were so many protestors at the Capitol that the building was put on a temporary lockdown due to the large crowd --
estimated at 2,500 -- already in the building. Authorities stopped letting more people inside during the early afternoon.
By early afternoon, just before the Senate went into session, State Police did make some arrests. Fewer than a dozen people were taken out of the Capitol in handcuffs, according to troopers.
Michigan State Police say they have used chemical spray on the protesters who to tried rush into the Senate chamber at the Capitol, according to the Associated Press. Inspector Gene Adamczyk said people tried to rush past two troopers guarding the Senate door. Troopers used chemical spray after the people refused to obey orders to stop. Adamczyk said the building wasn't at capacity but protesters were heavily concentrated in a few areas.
The debate spilled out onto the Capitol steps where those same protesters clashed with a few brave souls who weren't about to shy away.
"What about union conservatives who want their voice to be heard?" asked one right-to-work supporter.
"You get a voice." answered a protestor.
"But we don't. I'm a minority in my own shop," said the right-to-work supporter.
Protestors plan to be back in Lansing Tuesday, when the House will take up the bills passed Thursday by the Senate.
Organized labor has strong roots here in Michigan. The United Auto Workers was born here in 1936. The Sit Down Strike in Flint was a violent showdown between union and management that lasted over a month and gave the UAW a place in history.
Generations have grown up on shop floors and in the union halls and membership has been passed down.
"To take that away by this kind if right-wing attack by the Republican administration is a disgrace to everything Michigan has stood for decades and decades," said Rick Feld, who was among the anti-right-to-work protestors.
Many labor leaders say the good paychecks, benefits and working conditions are a result of what unions have negotiated for them.
On paper, right-to-work doesn't take any of that away. It does give workers a choice over whether they want to pay union dues.
"I know that they're saying that right-to-work will make more jobs," said protestor Barbara Davis. "But I don't think that. I believe that right-to-work is going to hurt the people out there.
There is strength in numbers, both in bargaining and in politics. Start losing workers who don't want to join the union, and that power is lost.
"Yes, that will happen. But we're going to have to do what we need to do to make sure that the unions stay strong," said Davis.
Democrats have vowed to fight the measure in the courts. Union members say they want to take it to the people, suggesting a statewide referendum on the question.
"Unions are not over with. We're not going nowhere," said Tiffany Coger of UAW Local 600. "We're going to continue to fight."
But when it comes to a vote, there could be mechanical issues with the Senate and House versions that prohibit a referendum.
It's also relevant to remember Proposal 2. That ballot measure would have made collective bargaining part of the state constitution -- and some speculate it helped fuel the fire for right-to-work. Voters soundly defeated Proposal 2 in November.
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Michigan is governed as a republic, with three branches of government: executive, legislative and judicial. The state also allows direct participation of the electorate by initiative, referendum, recall, and ratification.