LANSING, Mich. (WOOD/AP) — Dozens of state troopers in riot gear swept protesters away from a Michigan state office building in the wake of final approval of anti-labor legislation.
State troopers were armed with tear gas canisters, pepper spray and batons and were among dozens of officers guarding the Capitol in Lansing as the right-to-work battle heated up.
Thousands of union supporters were at the Capitol to protest the legislation that made financial support of unions voluntary. Most of the some 12,500 demonstrators were peaceful, according to Michigan State Police
"There are plenty of protestors here but everybody is voicing their opinion in a lawful and orderly manner," said MSP Inspector Gene Adamczyk mid-day Tuesday.
But on three occasions, troopers pepper-sprayed members of the crowd, according to a Tuesday evening MSP release.
In the first incident at the Capitol around noon, pepper spray was used to subdue a protester outside the state Capitol who had his hands on a trooper. Capt. Harold Love said the female trooper was being pulled into a crowd Tuesday. Love says a male trooper standing nearby gave two short bursts of pepper spray to end the incident. There was no arrest.
At a 2 p.m. incident, pepper spray was used when troopers were pushed up against the Romney building by the crowd. After the spray was used, the crowd back off. No one was arrested.
"I just attempted to cover my eyes and face. I didn't know what was happening," Schauer told 24 Hour News 8. "First tried to clean it out with a T-shirt. That didn't work really well and I found some water and was able to flush it out of my eyes."
The former congressman from the Battle Creek area is all right. He said he was trying to keep the peace when he got caught up in the crowds.
Three people were arrested on misdemeanor charges at the George W. Romney building across the street from the Capitol, according to Michigan State Police.
The first two were arrested around 1 p.m. when they attempted to rush into the governor's office building behind troopers. Pepper spray was used for the third time Tuesday to force people back from the doorway.
The third person was arrested around 2:30 p.m. upon refusing to follow troopers' commands as more troopers were arriving to reinforce security at the Romney building..
There were also a few minor calls for medical assistance and altercations. No major injuries or medical emergencies were reported to MSP.
Protesters packing the state Capitol in Lansing chanted and whooped as lawmakers prepared to take final votes on the divisive right-to-work bills.
Hundreds of demonstrators packed all four levels of the rotunda, chanting "Union!" and "What's disgusting? Union-busting!"
They stomped their feet and banged together hard hats.
The noise was deafening. At one point the crowd began loudly roaring, applauding themselves as the decibel levels grew.
A group of about 20 state troopers blocked the Senate chamber. Officers stared straight ahead, expressionless, as the crowd heckled them, demanding to be let in and shouting, "You're next."
The scene was calmer outside the House chamber. There were about 20 troopers there as protesters gathered in the rotunda area and hallways. About a dozen protesters clustered around troopers, one mugging for a snapshot with an expressionless officer.
Stomping protesters chanted, "No justice. No Peace" and "Shut it down."
Several of the troopers in front of the House doors were armed with tear gas canisters, pepper spray and batons.
Tuesday morning, several thousand union members gathered to protest so-called right-to-work legislation in Michigan marched three-blocks to the state Capitol.
A block-and-a-half mass including autoworkers, sheet metal workers, machinists, and electrical workers chanting "We are the union, the mighty, might union" left the Lansing Center Tuesday morning, en route to City Hall across from the Capitol. The coalition of 33 unions was expected to mass outside the Capitol at 10:30 a.m.
Crowds of protesters shouted slogans such as
"No Justice, no peace" and "Hey hey, ho ho, right to work has got to go."
Spectators lined up in the dark Tuesday morning before the building opened, shouting and stomping their feet in below-freezing temperatures.
inflatable toy rats were set up on the Capitol lawn. They bore the names of
Gov. Rick Snyder, House Speaker Jase Bolger, Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville and Dick DeVos, a Grand Rapids businessman whom union leaders believe is pushing the right-to-work bills.
A top union official has vowed to wage "war" against those who moved quickly to pass divisive right-to-work legislation in the Michigan Legislature.
Terry O'Sullivan, general president of the Labor International Union of North America, said during a public rally held Tuesday the legislation is "dead on arrival." He also told elected officials who support the measure that "we are going to take you on and take you out."
Sixty-one-year-old Lindsey Curtis of Flint said she is inspired by the gathering after fearing "unions had just rolled over." The retired police identification technician and water department meter reader says she hopes Gov. Rick Snyder "hears the message."
Fifty-seven-year-old Valerie Constance is a Wayne County Community College District developmental reading instructor and member or the American Federation of Teachers. She sat on the Capitol steps with a sign shaped like a tombstone. It read: "Here lies democracy."
Sue Brown is a 50-year-old pipefitter from Midland. She said she's not in a union, but she's convinced that right-to-work legislation weakens unions' powers, leading to lower wages for everyone. She says unions including the United Auto Workers "created the middle class."
Even with the outcome considered a foregone conclusion, the heated battle over right-to-work legislation in the traditional union bastion of Michigan showed no sign of cooling. Republican lawmakers quickly moved legislation through the House and Senate in a single day last week.
Democratic lawmakers and union backers concede they had little chance of stopping tide, given the Republican-dominated Legislature and GOP Gov. Rick Snyder, who signed the measure into law.
Foes of the law, including President Barack Obama, tryed to keep the spotlight on the fight.
Several streets were closed around the Capitol --
W. Ottawa Street, from N. Walnut Street to N. Washington Square
Walnut Street, from W. Ottawa Street to W. Washtenaw Street
W. Allegan Street, from S. Pine Street to S. Capitol Avenue
S. Capitol Avenue, from W. Ionia Street to W. Allegan Street
E. Michigan Avenue, from S. Capitol Avenue to S. Grand Avenue
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.